Community and Neighborhood Spotlight: Jamaica Plain

When school begins and classes are in full swing, it can be hard to step, walk, run, bike or bus outside of the Harvard bubble.  Most students live within walking distance of campus and find themselves too pressed for time to consider exploring the plethora of other neighborhoods that make up Boston.  If they make it beyond Harvard, they most likely constrain themselves to the Cambridge-Somerville hot spots of Davis, Central, Union and Inman Squares.  While these areas are wonderful and definitely host some great restaurants, bars, and things to do, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Boston lies across the river on the south side of the city.

Jamaica Plain (JP) is known for its diverse population, history of activism, abundance of artists and beautiful green spaces.  Just south of the South end, adjacent to Roxbury and Brookline, JP is easily accessible via bike or T.  The neighborhood stretches from Jackson Square in the north to Forest Hills in the south and curves around Jamaica Pond, a serene pond circulated by a running and biking path.  Centre St. is the heart of JP and is home to an abundance of good, cheap food, artist studios, coffee shops and thrift stores. Many HDS students choose to live in the area, and if you don’t mind the commute, it’s a wonderful place to live and engage in the Boston community. If you are visiting and have time to explore outside of Harvard and Cambridge, you should consider visiting JP and seeing more of what Boston has to offer.

When I have the time, especially in early fall or late spring, I love to hop on my bike and head over the river, through Brookline, along the Longwood bike path to spend a day exploring in Jamaica Plain.  Some of my favorite places and things to do are:

Bike around Jamaica Pond:

If you’re like me and have your own bike or access to one, Jamaica Pond is an easy ride from Harvard Square.  It’s 4.7 miles with an extra 1.5 miles all the way around the pond.  If you don’t have a bike or are coming to the area by the Orange Line, you can walk or jog around the pond.

Bring a book to the arboretum:

As a child of Wisconsin and Minnesota, I often find myself craving a respite from the city.  The Arnold Arboretum is a perfect place to find solitude and spend time in nature.  The 281 acre long arboretum boasts an astonishing variety of trees and other plants.  It is particularly beautiful when the leaves are turning in the fall and in early spring.  I love to bring a book and stroll around the arboretum in the fall. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is located less than a mile from Jamaica Pond and Centre St., and if you’re taking the T, it is adjacent to the Forest Hills Stop.

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View of Boston from Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in JP. Photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer.

Grab Coffee at City Feed (2 locations):

City Feed and Supply is a neighborhood grocery, café, and deli that offers a wide range of delicious sandwiches, Fair Trade and Organic Coffee from Equal Exchange, and groceries.  I highly recommend grabbing coffee, perusing the array of local beer and wine on display, and maybe partaking in a baked good for fuel while you explore Centre St.

Eat at:

J.P. Licks: JP is home of the original JP Licks.  Whether it’s a hot or cold day, you shouldn’t pass up on stopping by this iconic and scrumptious ice cream parlor. Once you’ve tried the original, don’t forget to stop by the J.P. Licks in Harvard Square across from Harvard Yard!

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J.P. Licks’ famous ice cream. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

El Oriental De Cuba: JP is one of the best places to find Cuban food in the city with a large population of Cuban immigrants.  El Oriental De Cuba is a must-visit with a cozy, diner feel and wide range of dishes to choose from.

Cafe Beirut: Cafe Beirut is well-known for delicious and cheap Lebanese food.  It is one of the few Lebanese restaurants in the city and serves the best shawarma and kibbeh I’ve had in the U.S.   Check out their pumpkin kibbeh or battata harra (spicy potatoes)!

Shop at:

Boomerangs: Boomerangs is a popular thrift store with great finds.  From furniture to ugly sweaters, it’s the perfect shop to outfit your apartment and wardrobe.  If you can’t make it to the one in JP, they have another location in Central Square here in Cambridge.

Papercuts: Papercuts is an independently owned bookstore just off of Centre St.  Don’t let the size of the store fool you! They have a great selection of books and the owner is fantastic!

Drink at:

Sam Adams Brewery: For those of you who love beer (or don’t but like free things), Sam Adams Brewery is a lovely way to cap off your tour of JP.  The brewery offers free tours everyday that come with a sampling of Sam Adams’ classic and seasonal beers.  It is located near the Orange Line Stony Brook T Station.

A Former HDS Student Reflects on the Anniversary of Reformation Day

Guest Post by Pastor Robin Lutjohann, MDiv 2013

Harvard Divinity School is a place that will change you if you let it. I started by pursuing

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Robin Lutjohann, photo from author.

the two-year MTS degree with the intention of researching and teaching the history of Christianity. By the time I left, I was well on my way to becoming a Lutheran pastor. During the three years I spent at HDS, I lived in a protest camp in downtown Boston (Occupy!); switched my program; learned how to do ministry from people who lived on the streets of Cambridge and directed a soup kitchen. Also, I learned a couple of languages; wrote many papers; got baptized in the Charles River; fell in and out of love a couple of times; got engaged; met some of my best friends. Through all these and countless other encounters, I experienced at HDS what the Christian tradition calls “conversion” — a “being turned around” from one direction to another. So many of my friends and colleagues from HDS experienced something similar, entering the school with one vision and leaving with a very different one.

I have experienced the Divinity School as a kind of incubator for discernment. The sheer diversity of perspectives, traditions, and practices surrounding us here required us to examine our paths and question our motives at every turn. We took nothing for granted. Which is why, when folks ask me why I went to HDS and not to a Lutheran seminary, my answer is:

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Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

“I am not sure I would be a Lutheran pastor today if I had gone to a Lutheran seminary. But in this multi-faith, multi-vocational context, I was forced to give an account for myself, for my story, and for my chosen tradition.” Others’ questions spurred on my learning. It is not too much to say that I learned from my Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, Baptist, Jewish, and other friends about what it means to be a Lutheran.

Despite our diversity of paths, one thing united us: HDS taught us that this institution educates “learned ministers.” All of us — academics, social workers, monks, nonprofit or government leaders, teachers, and students, and, yes, even pastors — were encouraged to think of ourselves as “learned ministers.”

One year into my pastorate at Faith Lutheran Church, back in my old neighborhood close to HDS, I am rediscovering the strength of this core idea. It contains a compelling ethos, holding together academic excellence and responsibility in the world.

Often, I wonder: what do most people think when they hear the phrase “learned minister?” Maybe they picture something like the statue of William Ellery Channing

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Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

facing Arlington Street Church in downtown Boston. His eyes and chest raised heroically, 19th-century-windswept-Jane-Austen-novel hair casually blowing in the breeze, one hand clutching an academic robe (as if to shield the man against the onslaught of the world’s moral depravity), the other solidly in possession of that which grounds all of his work: the text. It is the image of the Preacher, the Pulpit Prince, who exercises leadership through his golden-tongued eloquence and moral example.

It is an image conjured for the sake of public gardens and portrait galleries. But it has little to do with what I have known a “learned minister” to be. Even Will Channing’s actual ministry and character was so much more interesting than it was heroic, much more embattled and conflicted, weak and strong at once, swept along by events, attempting to be witness to the Light he had glimpsed, but ever failing to do so completely, ever the sinner, even while a saint to us.

In 200 years of its history, HDS has expanded the definition of “minister” to include all forms of service to neighbor and world. While both some traditionalists and some secularists may bristle at this identification, it is actually quite faithful to its original intent. “Minister” is a Latin word that simply means “servant.” Its Greek equivalent “diakonos” is used by St. Paul in his letters not to describe an ordained clergyperson, but rather the role of the whole community seeking after the way of life that Jesus showed us — to serve others with compassion and to serve the world in seeking a just society, even in the face of the greatest adversity, even to the point of losing all for the sake of the world’s life. 

I see it as a fortuitous turn of events that HDS, in its increasing inclusivity over 200 years (towards other traditions, towards broader vocational directions), was forced to expand its definition of “ministry” and thereby virtually backed itself into a rendering of the term that is ironically more faithful to the biblical tradition at its roots, even while many students today would not claim this tradition as their own.

In fact, as a Lutheran, who is particularly mindful of Martin Luther’s reform movement as the 500th anniversary of its inception approaches in 2017, I am reminded of Luther’s own theology of vocation. Rather than ministry being the exclusive enclave of a few holy experts with lofty titles, who would have the power to dispense enlightenment and forgiveness, Luther wanted the entire people of God to own their ministry in daily life — cobblers, stonemasons, mothers and fathers, students, governors, and, yes, even pastors. “Each has the work and office of [their] trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of [their] own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another [1 Cor 12:14-26].” (Luther’s Works 44:130) All were to be ministers of the Gospel! Luther once remarked that a Christian cobbler was not one who stitched little crosses on their shoes, but rather one who worked ethically, made an honest living, and exuded holiness in their ordinary tasks. 

So, there is no divide between the mundane and the theological. There is no barrier separating ministry and “secular” work. There is only the one service offered for the life of the world. The more we embrace this, the more faithful we will be to both the 200-year legacy of HDS and the(almost) 500-year history of the Lutheran reforming movement. I am delighted to think these two strands of tradition together, and I would invite anyone, regardless of affiliation, to join me

 

 

Working with the Religions and Practice of Peace Initiative

Founded in 2014 by Dean David N. Hempton, the Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP) Initiative seeks to advance engagement, scholarship, and practice on the roles of religion in fostering sustainable peace. The RPP Initiative brings together a diverse range of faculty from a wide array of disciplines and fields from across Harvard’s Schools, focusing on how the positive role of religion has worked to prevent violence and pursue social change and social justice by nonviolent means. Students at the Divinity School have an opportunity to participate in the initiative in a variety of ways, through the public colloquiums held once a month, a year-long course that is offered, and by working with the RPP as Graduate Assistants.

At the RPP Keynote Address this fall, which featured Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, Graduate Assistant Brittany Landorf spoke with current RPP Graduate Assistants Benjamin Crockett (MTS, 2018), Johnna Loreen (MTS, 2018), Alizeh Ahmed (MTS, 2018) and photographer Laura Krueger (MTS, 2017) about their work with the RPP and how it impacts their studies.

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Religion and the Practice of Peace Graduate Assistants at the RPP Keynote Address October 6, 2016. From Right to Left: Christina Desert, Alizeh Ahmed, Johnna Loreen, Benjamin Crockett, and Dan Hornsby (Not pictured: Laura Kreuger). Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

What are you studying (focus area/degree program)?

Alizeh Ahmed:  I am an MTS with a concentration in Islamic Studies. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the politics of authority surrounding the establishment and application of contemporary Islamic Law in postcolonial societies in Asia, its effects on culture and pluralism in these contexts, and contemporary reform movements.

Benjamin Crockett: I am a first year Master of Theological Studies candidate studying religious conflicts and the role of the media at Harvard University.

Laura Kreuger: MTS, concentrating in Religion, Literature, and Culture

Johnna Loreen: I’m an MTS candidate with a focus in Religion, Ethics, and Politics.

What brought you to HDS?

Johnna: HDS was recommended to me by the head of the Religious Studies department of my undergraduate institution. I was drawn in especially by the focus on religious pluralism unique to HDS, the ability to expand my studies and classes beyond the Divinity School, and the financial aid that HDS can offer their students.

Alizeh: In HDS, I liked both the multi-religious, interdisciplinary context of learning and the opportunity to engage with students interested in academia as well as ministry. I also feel like HDS is an ever-evolving and changing experiment in higher ed–I like that the school continues to ask itself what divinity school means, who it exists for, and what its responsibilities are to its students and the world.

How would you define the RPP?

Johnna: I would describe RPP as a people-based initiative that strives to employ cross-cultural dialogue and self-reflection to promote peace among different groups of people. The organization is small but brings in people from across Harvard University who see that the practice of peace is not solely the job of HDS to bring about, but an opportunity to connect across campus and differences for the sake of laying the groundwork for cooperative relationships and peace-building.

Ben: A group of like-minded individuals from all over the university and beyond actively engaging in the practice of peace with a firm commitment to exploring the spiritual resources available to us within our different communities and faith traditions.

What motivated you to apply to the RPP and what do you do there?

Alizeh: I am interested in conflicts or political contestations charged by religious identity politics or issues of interpretative authority. I wanted to apply to the RPP because I hope to learn more about the contributive power of language or behavior steeped in religious tradition, as well as interfaith communication, in mending these types of conflicts.

In what ways does working for the RPP enrich/complement your studies?  How does it enhance your study of religion? 

Johnna: I plan to focus my studies on religious pluralism in the United States with the hopes of one day contributing to community-based problem solving in religiously diverse environments. Being a part of RPP, I’m able to see some of these ideals in practice and gain further exposure and experience in what it means to employ religious pluralism and community dialogue as a practice of peace in a diverse world.

Ben: RPP is a wonderfully practical and necessary supplement to my academic studies. I love the Colloquium course because it is discussion based and we are so fortunate to have some incredible speakers come and share their wisdom and experiences with us. As someone who is interested in studying conflict and the different ways communities have been able to find peace, this course is an absolute must!

What Practice of Peace topic has been of particular interest to you?

Laura: I am interested in the larger, underlying discussion that permeates RPP events: peace is an action, peace is a practice and a distinct way of operating and existing in the world as a whole.

Johnna: I have been fascinated by the idea of art and the sharing of art to be a contributing factor to peace-building and cross-cultural dialogue. At our first public colloquium of the year, we got to experience how visual and performance art can be a part of this dialogue and lead to a deep sense of empathy for others.

Ben: I am interested in how we can use social media and emerging mobile technology to mobilize social movements while holding on to our humanity and keeping a firm spiritual commitment.

What has been your favorite part of the experience so far?

Laura: As a photographer, I often make an attempt to be as invisible as possible at these events. That’s not always practical (people often want photos together, which is great), but it means that I get to step back and observe what’s happening, watch people’s reactions and responses, and experience the event in a way that’s not necessarily typical. That’s to say, I enjoy photographing events for RPP for many of the same reasons that I enjoy photography in general, but I also get to learn something about the world and the people in it when I photograph for RPP.

Johnna: In my short time thus far at RPP, I have enjoyed being part of a group that is passionate about the intersection of religion and practices of peace. It’s a small working group, and the opportunity to work closely with and learn from them has been inspiring. We each have different skills and ideas to bring to the table, but we’re connected by the larger theme of why we came to work for RPP in the first place.

HDS <3 HUDS: HDS Students support the Harvard University Dining Service Workers

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“In seeking the long-term welfare of all, we endeavor to accept responsibility for the impact of our actions on our community, our environment, and the world. We hold ourselves and each other accountable for our behavior and our use of resources.” –HDS Community Values

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HUDS workers gather with undergraduate and graduate students in front of the John Harvard Statute in Harvard Yard. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

On Wednesday, October 5, the Harvard University Dining Service workers went on strike after months of contract negotiations fell through with the university. The HUDS workers are protesting a cut to their health care plan, one that would raise their co-pay and make it prohibitive to seek services and seeking a $35,000 annual salary with a guaranteed stipend during the summer months. Currently, HUDS workers are required to be on call during the summer months and are not allowed to collect unemployment benefits. While the average hourly wage is above minimum wage, this does not take into account how many hours workers are allotted during the year as well as the lack of employment they experience during the summer months. In addition, it is not sufficient for the high living costs of Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding areas.

Support for the strikers has poured in from the students in the undergraduate college and graduate schools. At Harvard Divinity School, the HDS Student Association has connected the Divinity School’s community values with the HUDS worker’s plight, standing in support of the strike, “In voicing our support for HUDS workers, we draw on those moral teachings shared by many of the world’s spiritual and ethical traditions which emphasize compassion, dignity, and justice for all people. Burdening workers with unsustainable incomes and unaffordable health care coverage directly contradicts the values of equity and social justice we believe Harvard must stand for – for its students, faculty members, and workers alike.”

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Top to bottom: Natalie Malter, Rod Owens, and Nestor Pimienta speaking at the interfaith spiritual service held by HDS students for HUDS strikers. Photo Credit: Angela Counts

Many HDS students have become personally involved in the strike, supporting the picket line, staging walk-outs, and providing spiritual and material services to the HUDS workers.  HDS students held an interfaith spiritual service for the HUDS workers before a student-led walk-out at the beginning of this week. And, on Tuesday, students led a walk-out from Community Tea, a weekly opportunity for HDS students and faculty to socialize over food and tea, to bring food and beverages to the HUDS workers.

First-year MTS candidate Madeline Kinkel has been at the forefront of organizing HDS students to provide support to the workers. She created a Facebook page “HDS ❤ HUDS,” and has helped coordinate an HDS petition and food drives for the workers. Madeline is the daughter of a union family and has a deep understanding of the important roles unions play in negotiating living wages, health care, and other benefits. Madeline spoke with HDS Admissions GA, Brittany Landorf, the other day about what it means to support the HUDS workers to her, “When I heard about the negotiations between the union and the university, it felt personal. As a first year student at HDS, I didn’t know any of the workers involved, not at first anyway. That didn’t matter. Thinking of how stressful it is to not have affordable health care, to avoid going to the doctor when you’re sick, and having to try to take care of a family and children on top of that, I couldn’t even imagine. Beyond this gut reaction, raising the standard of working conditions for one group of people can help raise them for everyone. Joining the struggle for fair pay and health care coverage felt like I was joining the fight for my family.”

Madeline became more involved with the strike after helping set up a petition with other HDS students to show support of the HUDS workers. She has since met several of the HUDS workers and union leaders, “About a week after the [HDS] petition was public, I was introduced to Aaron D., one of the HUDS workers. Aaron is not only incredibly kind, but also knows all the ins and outs of the conflict between the university and the HUDS workers. From what I’ve heard, Harvard has begun to offer marginally better wages, and an infinitesimal summer stipend, if the workers agree to drastically cut health care. So, they want their workers to just keep running, hoping that they won’t trip and get sick, that their children won’t get sick.”

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MTS Candidate Madeline Kinkel photo credit: Brittany Landorf

She connects her service and support of the strikers with the HDS mission statement, “The HDS mission statement reads that we are training people to build a more equitable world. It seemed to me that as HDS students, with all the privileges that come with that title, we were and are called to stand alongside families and people desperately fighting for a chance to live, a chance to live without that constant anxiety and fear.

For Madeline and many other HDS students, supporting the strike is not a choice; it is a direct reflection of the academic, community, and spiritual values that motivated them to apply to HDS in the first place, “And so I, and a solid group of HDS students, have been shirking our scholarly duties and organizing, and going to the picket lines to stand with the workers. In part because we are called to fight for an equitable world, and in part because, personally and selfishly, I think of my mother working a non-union, minimum wage job and driving in her broken car in the winter with no safety net if the frozen wind makes her sick, and I need to stand with the striking workers.”

Encountering Faces of Divinity: An Exhibit of Inclusion

If you walk through the Harvard Divinity School campus right now, you’ll see the crisp air turning the leaves into copper hues; students gathering around shared spaces to discuss readings and community activities; and remarkable guest speakers sharing their own unique perspectives on religion, faith and spirituality. Additionally, to coincide with Harvard Divinity School’s 200 year anniversary, this year marked the opening of an evocatively titled multimedia exhibition, Faces of Divinity: Envisioning Inclusion for 200 Years. Faces of Divinity showcases twenty-one exhibits of photographs, poetry, paintings and audiovisual materials located all around the HDS Campus – in Andover, Divinity, and Rockefeller halls. The exhibit was designed to celebrate HDS’s bicentennial and also to highlight the multifaceted display of histories connected to HDS.

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Faces of Divinity exhibit, Divinity Hall Panel. Photograph by Sujay Pandit.

Developed over a span of more than eight months by Professor Ann Braude, director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program and Senior Lecturer in American Religious History, this multimedia exhibit recounts the history of Harvard Divinity School, which was founded in 1816. Professor Braude worked alongside three Harvard doctoral students (who had the unique opportunity to serve as assistant curators): Eva Payne, MDiv ’10, Christopher Allison, and Tom Whittaker.

The exhibit opened on August 30, 2016, right before the 2016 Convocation for HDS students. Although the exhibit draws on 200 years of history, the content feels fresh, innovative and timely. By bringing together diverse narrative voices from students, faculty and university initiatives, the exhibit helps viewers understand how HDS became one of the preeminent multireligious, multidisciplinary centers of academic excellence, religious scholarship, and service to the local and global communities. While unique to this particular historical moment, the exhibit explores the development and history of HDS through a series of themes including: theology and ethics, history, and Unitarian and Universality traditions, as well as Jewish, Asian, Islamic, African American and women’s religious studies, ministry training, preaching and social justice. Like viewing an enormous tree from multiple sides, each of these narrative angles allows a viewer to understand a particular community at HDS but also points to resource rich, larger community of our school that holds us together.

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Image from Faces of Divinity exhibit.

In an interview with HDS, Professor Braude discussed her interest in creating the exhibit:

“The bicentennial offers an opportunity to change the visual culture of the School. I want to show on the walls of the School how the people who are here now came to be here. I want the students who are here to be able to see that they have a legitimate place in the ongoing history of the School, that their voices are needed to continue the ever-widening conversation about religion that has been going on for 200 years.”

(To read the full interview with Professor Braude, please click here.)

The exhibit transforms the “visual culture” of HDS to include the stories, creative work, scholarship and perspectives from voices that would have remained obscure without the exhibit. Although the exhibit is not a complete record of the School (imagine the sheer size of chronicling 200 years of history!), Faces of Divinity takes the necessary steps to follow students, faculty, and staff across porous and shifting lines between HDS and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a line often discussed in relation to the exhibit’s themes.

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Seasons of Light (2013) photograph from Faces of Divinity exhibit.

My favorite part of the entire exhibit is the multimedia station located in Rockefeller Hall’s first floor; entitled, “Expanding the Archive,” this exhibit permits visitors to add their memories, and contributions to the exhibit. This moment in the exhibit’s timeline allows current and past students to remember how HDS has directly shaped their education, and it allows prospective students to imagine themselves as becoming part of the branches of the incredibly complex, multifaceted tree that is HDS.

I hope you will take the time to encounter the faces of the exhibit on your visit to Harvard Divinity School, and perhaps even see your own reflected back as part of our community.

Deepening Discernment through DivEx

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If I had to describe my journey to Harvard Divinity School, I would refer to the words of Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, in which he states: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Over time, I’ve adopted this understanding of my calling to the world and weaved Buechner’s words through my narrative.

As a high school student, while working at a local non-profit interfaith coffee shop, I remember thriving in an environment that encouraged musings, followed wanderings, and above all, valued global social justice. After graduation, I began to work my way through my undergraduate program, where I brought my musings to a campus that allowed me to grow in my passion for social justice. Eventually, I followed my wanderings to Limpopo, South Africa, where I was able to actively collaborate with local community members in working towards community social justice goals. Near the end of my undergraduate career, my musings and wanderings combined with my passion for social justice, led me to consider the intersection of my deep gladness and the world’s hunger. With these questions, I began to consider continuing my education through the means of Divinity School or seminary, but not without question… lots and lots of questions.

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Panoramic View of Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School

I struggled to decide if my desires were best fit for a traditional seminary or a Divinity School. My hyper-Type A personality had me buried in pro-con lists, researching schools around the country, while continuing to ask where I wanted my theological education to lead me. Last November, in the midst of these lists and research, I found myself as a participant in HDS’ Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx). I approached DivEx with the same explorative attitude, passion, and flexibility that I carried from my previous experiences and here, I discovered the welcoming community, innovative thinking, and tremendous resources that HDS has to offer.

During DivEx, the time I spent in conversation with professors, administrators, current and prospective students, and various other leaders, guided my search for a theological education. It was here that I had the opportunity to sit with other DivEx participants to discern my direction in the world. DixEx has so much to offer: class visits, admissions and financial aid information sessions, and community events that provide an authentic sense of the atmosphere at HDS. In my DivEx experience, my most valuable conversations happened naturally, such as over a cup of coffee, or around the dinner table, where professors and students truly embodied the openness of the HDS community.

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Samantha Melton (center) with Angela Counts, HDS Director of Admissions, and 2015 DivEx participants.

These colorful conversations are what I continued to think about months later; I still carry these conversations to my classes today. The direction of my education developed from these friendships. In this space of people devoted to social-justice, myself and my fellow DivEx participants come willing to cultivate conversation, explore musings, and embrace wanderings.

As you embark on the journey of considering theological education, I urge you to nurture your musings, follow your wanderings, and let your ‘deep gladness’ lead you. I invite you to listen as you share a meal with those around you, and use conversations as guideposts in your discernment as you continue to ask where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet. If you are participating in DivEx this year, or thinking about applying to DivEx next year, I hope that you find value beyond the surface, and your conversations lead you to clarity in your discernment.

All the best on your journey,

Samantha Melton, M.Div. ’19

Meet the 2016-2017 Office of Admissions Graduate Assistants!

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Meet the 2016-2017 Admissions Office Graduate Assistants: 

Greetings from the 2016-2017 HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistants! Recently, we had a virtual conversation about HDS, working in the Office of Admissions, and pies. We hope this gives you some insight on how students live and work at HDS; we look forward to interacting with the 2016-2017 applicants this year!

-Brittany Landorf, MTS ‘18, Samantha Melton, MDiv ‘19, Sujay Pandit, MTS ‘18

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From Left to Right: Brittany Landorf, Samantha Melton, and Sujay Pandit

Who we are: 

SP: My name is Sujay Pandit, and I am incoming MTS student here at HDS. My concentration is Religion, Ethics, and Politics and I am interested in exploring the intersections between disaster research and religion in the United States.

BL:  My name is Brittany Landorf, and I’m also an incoming MTS student at HDS.  I am studying Islamic Studies with a focus on Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Islam.  I am interested in studying modern social movements and female spiritual leaders in Islam through the lens of feminist and queer critical theories.

SM: Hi Friends! My name is Samm Melton, and I am currently a first year M.Div. candidate at HDS, currently in the ordination process with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). I am particularly interested in social justice issues within the church the congregational response to these issues and have a passion for mental health advocacy within the church.

Why are you here/what brought you here?

SP: I came to HDS after recently completing my Ph.D. in Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. As part of my research, I became fascinated with the role that individual and communal religious experiences play in the aftermath of a crisis. I wanted to learn more about how religion and faith correlate to local and global experiences of disaster.

BL: As an undergraduate at Macalester College, I came to Religious Studies while studying International Studies and Arabic Language.  I found that Religious Studies offered an interdisciplinary approach that gave me a deeper understanding of Islam.  I became interested in the lived experience of piety Muslim people, specifically young Muslim women, performed in their daily lives.  After graduating from undergrad, I spent a year in Turkey on a Fulbright English Teaching Fellowship.  That experience helped me realize my interest in deepening my understanding of Islam from the intersection of religious studies and feminist and critical gender theories.

SM: Although I have considered ministry since high school, oddly enough, my journey to Divinity School started while I was a barista at a local non-profit coffee shop in high school. An unlikely scene to spark my interests, this coffee shop doubled as an interfaith community that had a passion for social justice and sparked my interest in the intersection of faith and social justice. Throughout undergrad, I spent the majority of my summer in Limpopo, South Africa, learning and working towards a sustainable ministry. As a psychology major, the value of mental health within the church, combined with my passion for social justice, and a call to ministry rooted in an interfaith space, led me to study at a multireligious divinity school.

What do we do as Graduate Assistants at HDS?

SP: As Graduate Assistants, we are in charge of working with the Office of Admissions on a variety of tasks. Each day brings new surprises! For example, in one day, I can be juggling working as a tour guide for prospective students, using my graphic design skills to create flyers or presentations, or answering prospective students’ emails and phone calls to our office. Since no day is typical, I am always eager to learn new skills and add them to my HDS tool belt.

BL:  My favorite part of being a Graduate Assistant at HDS is speaking to and meeting prospective students.  When I was applying, the GAs offered incredible advice and insight into the academic programs and community at HDS.  In addition to helping prospective students, we help host on and off-campus admissions events and facilitate conversations between current and incoming students.

SM: I would agree with Brittany and Sujay. Our typical day can vary pretty drastically. However, nothing brightens my day like meeting and speaking with prospective students. Since I’ve recently been through the admission process, I love hearing about where students are hoping their education can take them, as well as connecting them with the many resources here at HDS.

What is one thing we are excited for this year? 

SP: I am excited to experience Theological Education Day 2016 (T.E.D.) and the Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx) because I was unable to attend those events when I was applying to HDS. Now, I’ll get the chance to see how the Office of Admissions organizes and executes these two exciting events!

BL:  I am also very excited for T.E.D. and DivEx.  I cannot wait to meet the prospective applicants and help show them around HDS’ campus!  In the spring, I am looking forward to organizing our Open House for incoming students.

SM: As a recent DivEx Alum, I am most excited to share in the DivEx experience with prospective students this year, particularly since my DivEx experience became such an integral part of my discernment process. I too am also excited for the Open House for incoming students, as I look forward to campus coming alive as we welcome new students and prepare for a new year.

What do we like about the community? 

SP: I enjoy the diversity here at HDS.  This diversity extends beyond the classroom walls, and I see it in the Office of Admissions. It is thrilling to work in an office surrounded by people with diverse perspectives on religion, academia, faith and spirituality. Most importantly, I wanted my time at HDS to prepare me with academic and also practical skills, and working as a GA helps me keep some balance to all the theoretical work I do in my coursework.

BL: Working in the Admissions Office has helped me develop a deeper understanding of the HDS community.  It is wonderful to see the Divinity School’s emphasis on fostering diverse and intentional spiritual communities extend to all aspects of the school.

SM: The Admissions Office has also helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the community of HDS. The diversity of the community is truly mirrored in the vast array of activities, community events, and students groups that HDS has to offer. Simply by walking around campus, you can truly feel how tight-knit this community is and their commitment to one another.

Favorite moment at HDS, thus far?

SP: Too many to count! One stands out: my supervisor and Assistant Director of Admissions, Sarah Guzy, brought us decadently rich pie to our first GA meeting of the semester!

BL: We went candlestick bowling for our office retreat at my favorite pizza place. It was a great way to bond with everyone and show off our bowling skills!

SM: There so many, but mine would likely have to be meeting with the Innovative Ministries group. It’s incredibly exciting and inspiring to hear the innovative ways in which people are seeking to do ministry!

Favorite pie?

SP: 3.14159

BL: Apple!!!! Or Rhubarb, it depends on the time of the year.

SM: Nothing beats a homemade pie of any type!

We can’t wait to connect with you as you discern if HDS is the right place for you, and move through the application process.  Contact us via email at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu or call us at 617-495-0639! 

 

Student Reflections on the HDS Application Process

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With the beginning of a new academic year around the corner, returning HDS students reflect on their application process and offer their advice to students thinking about applying to HDS:

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Incoming MTS student and Office of Admissions GA, Brittany Landorf reenacts her application process.

  • My number one advice to people is to recognize that the decision to attend divinity school requires a leap of faith. It is perfectly normal to be less-than-certain that this mysterious path is the “right one.” But if you find the big questions in life to be the most compelling ones, it is the best place to continue your journey toward wisdom and understanding. The main thing I wish I had known was just how stark the difference could be between interreligious and tradition-specific schools. If you want to study across religious borders, don’t expect to do that at a Christian seminary (even one that seems open to those inclinations). The tradition(s) in which a divinity school is grounded enhance and restrict the type of learning that takes place there, even if one is not pursuing ordination. If you are coming from a Christian or Jewish tradition, it is worth weighing whether you want to go significantly deeper into that tradition or broaden your study. —Daniel Becton, M.Div. ’18
  • A month into my year-long Fulbright fellowship in Turkey, I knew I wanted to pursue my interest in Islamic religion and culture in an academic setting. Finding a school and a program that combined my academic interests in Islamic Studies and Women and Gender Studies with my passion for religious literacy and intentional community building seemed like an unachievable goal. Harvard Divinity School offered the incredible opportunity to pursue a rigorous academic discussion with the understanding of how the lived experience of religion impacts individuals and communities. – Brittany Landorf, MTS ’18
  • The application process introduced me to the practices of deep thinking and courageous writing that have made my Harvard Divinity School education transformative beyond my wildest imaginings.—Sitraka St. Michael, M.Div. ’17
  • I was surprised how much my visits to the schools impacted my decisions to apply and helped my decision to enroll. Visit, if at all possible, even before applying. Start and submit early. Sweat the small stuff. Pay particular attention to details like GREs, due dates, giving your advisors enough time, etc.). Don’t be shy about calling the admissions office, but don’t wait until the last minute. Your letters of recommendation matter; choose your writers wisely and give them lots of time. Your statement of purpose is the most important. Don’t be shy about naming specific professors/programs/offices in your statement. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID!!! HDS has very, very, very few merit awards, BUT the majority of students qualify for financial aid, and it’s very generous, so do it. Our need-based aid can sometimes even trump other schools’ merit-based aid. —Keith Esposito, M.Div. ’18
  • The one thing I would say I wish I had known is that relief doesn’t automatically come when you finish the applications. The waiting period is almost as hard as the application period, but it does make finding out that your hard work paid off even sweeter! – Allison Hurst, MTS ’17
  • Applying to HDS was a total labor of love for me. There is something about applying to pursue graduate studies that feel uniquely personal and self-directed. I was surprised by how easy it was to craft a statement of purpose and by how much of myself I poured into the essay. My best advice to future applicants is to spend time reflecting on what is motivating you to study at HDS, and then write about that! Not only will it help give the admissions committee a clear picture of the person behind the application, but it will also help you clarify your values and aspirations as you move into this new chapter of your education. —Carly Matas, M.Div. ’17
  • My application to HDS required creative and logistical planning. On the logistical side, I recommend setting up a schedule with the important dates for when documents are due (transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, financial aid forms) and to stick as close to your schedule as you can. Obtaining the right documents from various institutions requires patience and time and the more days you have set aside to get this done will enable you to have more flexibility with the creative planning. The creative planning involves thinking about your particular academic and vocational interests and how you plan to utilize the wealth of resources, classes, and experiences at Harvard. At this point, I recommend visiting the HDS website and accompanying social media to enrich your understanding of what HDS does and how you would fit into the fabric of our community. Use the information culled during this stage to write the best admissions essay you can. Remember: leave room for “happy accidents,” and enough time to edit and re-edit your admissions essays to reflect the most prismatic version of yourself.
    – Sujay Pandit, MTS ’18

Stay tuned to the Harvard Divinity School website for more updates and the release of the admissions application for the 2017 academic year!

Hallowed Ground

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Today Andover Hall is at the center of our Divinity School campus. Crowned with a gothic tower, flanked by the stately Theological Library and the modern Rockefeller Hall, with Jewett House and the Center for the Study of World Religions paying their homage from across Francis Street, Andover is Harvard’s sole example of college gothic architecture. It looks every bit the home of a divinity school. But it was plain, unassuming Divinity Hall that I would first discover when Stephanie Paulsell, our Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of Christian Practice, encouraged me to explore HDS for graduate study.

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Emerson Chapel – Photo by Rose Lincoln

“Go to Divinity Hall,” she told me, “Emerson Chapel’s on the third floor—don’t miss it!” Leaving Harvard Yard, where Stephanie was teaching Literature of Journey and Quest that summer, I set off in search of Divinity Avenue and the hall for which it’s named. Harvey Cox, our beloved emeritus Hollis Professor, delights in telling us of our “exile” from Harvard Yard in 1826. In his telling, our troublesome forbearers were hard at work afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, and Harvard  wanted a little distance from the theological rabble-rousers in their midst. On that hot summer day when I finally came upon “Div Hall” as we call it, I would find it facing resolutely away from the street, its back to the Yard, determined to engage the world.

On that hot summer day when I finally came upon “Div Hall” as we call it, I would find it facing resolutely away from the street, its back to the Yard, determined to engage the world.

Dutifully climbing the stairs to the third floor, I discovered a small, quiet chapel with chairs arranged in an open square, facing each other across the room. Bookended by a pulpit on one end and an organ on the other, the chapel is adorned with several large plaques commemorating the luminaries who helped to shape the Divinity School’s early history. On that day the two old chandeliers seemed superfluous as natural sunlight streamed through the large colonial style windows. Stephanie had described it as a secret gem, and indeed it seemed that I had stumbled into a well-preserved bit of history, still extraordinarily well-suited to quiet contemplation and reflection.

These days, it is Andover Hall’s Chapel that serves as our gathering place on Wednesday’s for Noon Service and on Tuesday mornings for our Ecumenical Eucharist. We gather there for Seasons of Light and other big occasions throughout the year. By contrast, Divinity Hall’s Emerson Chapel has come to serve as a place where members of the HDS community come to find respite from the rush of activity that can sometimes characterize the divinity school experience. Students seek out this space to read or pray or simply sit in meditation. Small classes and discussion groups convene in the cool quiet of Emerson Chapel for conversation inflected by a sense of our history and feeling of timelessness.

Divinity Hall’s Emerson Chapel has come to serve as a place where members of the HDS community come to find respite from the rush of activity that can sometimes characterize the divinity school experience.

But the chapel in Divinity Hall used to be at the center of our communal life, serving the students of HDS when Divinity Hall wasn’t our oldest building, but our only building. Preaching classes would convene there, visiting eminences would come to preach and proclaim, and a 35-year-old Ralph Waldo Emerson would scandalize the community with his Divinity School Address on another hot summer day 176 years before I would find my way to the chapel that now bears his name.

On July 15, 1838, Emerson took to the chapel’s pulpit to encourage that year’s graduating class of divinity students to “acquaint themselves at first hand with deity.” Not quite ready for such a radical message, the community waited some thirty years to invite him back! Of course, Emerson was only participating in that particular brand of theological troublemaking that has characterized the best of us here at HDS for 200 years now. As we celebrate our bicentennial, we look forward to another 200 years of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Thinking with (Com)passion: Exploring the Humanity of Undocumented Immigrants at HDS

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Book shelf. Photo by Chris Alburger

As a former organizer in the immigration movement, I came to Harvard Divinity School to learn more about liberation theology and figure out how I could relate it to my understanding of undocumented immigrants. My overall project was to integrate undocumented immigrants into the political philosophy of the United States. My idea consisted of making an argument based on contribution. In simple terms, I argued that undocumented immigrants had a claim to American citizenship because of their economic contribution to society. My undergraduate training in economics directed me to think in terms of utility, production, benefits and costs. I presupposed that undocumented immigrants deserved to be recognized and granted citizenship by the American polity because of their contributions to the economy and society.

I took Professor Carrasco’s class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.

In my first semester at HDS I took Davíd Carrasco’s “Human Migration and US-Mexico Borderlands: Moral Dilemmas and Sacred Bundles.” The class examined “the immigration crisis of the Mexico-US borderlands within the epic context of human migration in history and global perspective.” I took this class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.

The first book that we read for the class was called Enrique’s Journey, and it immediately challenged my argument based on contribution. How do you incorporate children refugees into the American polity? They cannot contribute to the economy because of their age. Are they then less worth of American citizenship than the rest of undocumented immigrants? I had to rethink the premises of my argument to accommodate those undocumented immigrants whose contribution couldn’t be measured monetarily.

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Photo by Katelynn Carver

Time passed, we read more books, and we discussed Carrasco’s concept of “sacred bundles” in greater depth. He argues that when Mexican immigrants migrate to the United States, they bring with them a sacred bundle full of memories, hopes, beliefs, stories, etc. This bundle, in turn, is constitutive of their identity. That notion opened my eyes to the religious dimension of immigration. Eventually I realized that my contribution-based argument was operating within an economic framework that assigned value to people on the basis of their labor.

By the end of the semester, I had rethought my whole argument. In my final paper I pointed out the moral arbitrariness of American citizenship. I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution. Carrasco’s class added much to my understanding of the relationship between Mexico and the United States and the issue of immigration. Most importantly, however, it allowed me to contemplate, recognize, and value the humanity of undocumented immigrants by giving me access to different learning materials.

In addition to discussing the material and our views on immigration with each other during our session, we screened Robert M. Young’s award-winning Alambrista! and different guest speakers came to share their research and experiences in our classes. We read books that varied in their methodological approaches to immigration and thus learned to study the topic from different perspectives.

I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution.

My two favorite components of the class were the final paper and the dinners sponsored by Professor Carrasco. First, we had the opportunity to write a final research paper on a topic pertaining to immigration that was of special interest to us. Many wrote about the stories of their families, some interviewed immigrants they knew, and still others wrote proposals for future projects related to immigration. I think most of us enjoyed working on our papers because we had the flexibility to write about something that we were passionate about. Second, I also enjoyed the two dinners for the class: Mexican food was provided and we got to discuss the topics at hand while breaking bread together outside the classroom.

In addition to all this, I was most impacted by Dr. Carrasco himself—his passion for the topic kept me interested during all his classes and animated our class discussions. I’m looking forward to taking more classes like this one here at HDS, where students and professors alike share not only a passion for the topic of study and a compassion for those lives they hope to improve by that study.