Q+A’s and Application Myths: What you Need to Know

Hello everyone, we hope you are taking good care of yourselves as you prepare your application materials. As prior applicants, current students, and Graduate Assistants in the Office of Admissions, we know how stressful a time this can be. We’ve gathered quite a bit of behind the scenes information throughout our experiences in each of these roles, so we thought we’d write a blog to help you out. We’ve divided this post into two sections, beginning with a Q+A between Graduate Assistants Emily Rogal and Mikaela Allen and ending with a section featuring Application Myths, also produced by Emily Rogal and Mikaela Allen. Enjoy, and let us set your minds at ease!


Q+A’S BETWEEN GRADUATE ASSISTANTS:

Q: What sorts of things should I talk about in my SOP?

Mikaela: Good question! As you know, the Statement of Purpose is one of the most important aspects of your application. You should not slack when it comes to your SOP. But relax, you got this! You should present your authentic self, making sure to emphasize how HDS can help you achieve your goals. Questions to consider include: How has my background brought me to this moment, and how has it prepared me for HDS? What does HDS offer that I can’t find in another program? How does HDS fit into my long term goals? What faculty might I want to work with? Why? What courses might I want to take? How do my goals and studies connect to my interests and passions? What do I hope to accomplish with my degree?

Don’t forget to triple-check your spelling!

Q: What is the minimum GRE score and GPA?

Emily: Okay, first, take a deep breath! Having your entire personhood be contained in two numbers is totally scary, but what helped me during this time is knowing that the Admissions Office of HDS takes a holistic approach to reading the application. There is no minimum for either of these numbers.

When I was applying, I really freaked out about the GRE. I went to a small liberal arts school where I hadn’t touched a piece of math for my entire four years. Taking the GRE was extremely stressful! The best advice I have is to spend some time studying (if you can, test books are usually helpful), and dedicate the time to it that you can.

In terms of your GPA, it can feel scary to submit your academic records with no room for explanation. That’s why there’s actually room for an explanation! If you have any grades, or a period of time during your academic career where your grades don’t accurately reflect your capabilities, it might be beneficial to write what was happening in the “Academic History” section of your application. At the very bottom, there is space for you to write a note to the Admissions Committee anything about your academic records that requires further explanation.

Q: What did you do when you felt overwhelmed or inadequate?

Mikaela: During my application process, I made sure to stop for the day whenever I felt overworked so my Statement of Purpose and essay would reflect my clearest mind. Burnout and feelings of uncertainty are normal. Whenever you feel application burnout, go talk to your friends, grab coffee with a professor or colleague, or play with your dog. These types of activities will bring out your best self and remind you why you are applying whenever you become overwhelmed. Like all crafts, SOP writing needs space, more so than your average paper. Remember to listen to music, read your favorite authors, and go out with friends. Your application is for the benefit of your future, but don’t forget to take care of yourself in the present.

Q: How did you feel after you submitted your application?

Emily: Eventually, you’ll reach a point in your application where you’ve studied for the GRE for too many hours, spell checked your statement of purpose too many times, and double checked that your letters of recommendation have been submitted for the eight thousandth time. When you reach this moment, it’s time to submit your application!

Submitting the application can be both a sigh of relief and a huge source of anxiety. After you’ve submitted your application, first, take some time to congratulate yourself for a job well done. Making application to a graduate institute is a ton of work, and you’ve done it! Emerge from whatever library or bedroom or cave you’ve been living in for the past few months and do something to celebrate with friends, ride your bike around a park, pet your dog, and eat a lot of ice cream. Now is the hard part…waiting!


APPLICATION MYTHS

I don’t need to apply to financial aid, I probably won’t get in, anyway, right?

Emily: No, absolutely wrong! In mid-January, after submitting your application for admission, you will receive a link to apply for need based financial aid. Many folks choose to not apply for aid because they either think they will not get in, assume they won’t qualify for need based aid or feel as though they are likely to receive merit based aid. The majority of HDS’ financial aid is devoted to need based aid so all students are strongly encouraged to apply for need based aid. Additionally, if you choose to not apply for need based financial aid and are not offered a merit award, when you receive your acceptance letter, you will not receive a financial aid package. By the time of acceptance, all of the money will have been given out. Please apply for financial aid, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our Office of Financial Aid at financial_aid@hds.harvard.edu.

Emailing or mailing the Admissions Office a copy of my book or dissertation can substitute the GRE, the Statement of Purpose, and letters of recommendation, can’t it?

Mikaela: Nope! Nothing outside the required application materials is considered as part of your application. If you do not complete the requirements, your application will not be considered complete, even if you sent us your book.

Note: If you have already received a graduate degree, you may choose to self-waive the GRE by checking a waiver box within the application. If you are still working towards the completion of your graduate degree, you should request a GRE waiver, which includes an individual review of your previous graduate work. You can also find this information in the application instructions.

I should only start talking to my partner/friends/children/dog about moving once I get accepted.

Emily: The Office of Admissions won’t give you an extension to make your decision because you just started thinking about going to HDS! Once you submit your application, definitely start thinking about what it would look like to relocate your life to Boston if you’re from out of town. For housing, looking at resources like Boston Housing groups on Facebook, the Harvard Off-Campus Housing website, and the Boston Craigslist housing can be helpful. You may also want to look into living in a graduate dorm through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Other options include the Cronkhite Graduate Center, and other housing options within the Graduate Commons Program. Additionally, beginning to have honest, open conversations with your family or partner will be beneficial in the long run. Now is also a good time to consider moving expenses.

I should email or mail my official transcripts to you after I submit the application.

Mikaela: False. We only require that you send your official transcripts after you are admitted and if you elect to attend HDS. At that time, you will only need to provide official transcripts for those institutions from which you have been conferred a degree. Until then, unofficial transcripts from each post-secondary institution you attended, showing all undergraduate and graduate work, will suffice.

Note: All unofficial transcripts must be clearly legible and show the full name of the applicant and academic institution, courses completed, grades received, duration of study, and degree or diploma received, if applicable. All foreign transcripts, including grades, grading scales, conferrals of degrees, and records of all courses, seminars, and examinations taken, must be in English or be accompanied by a complete official and literal translation signed by the translator. Under no circumstances may an applicant translate their own transcript. The translator must also certify that the original transcript came to them directly from the educational institution. Please remember to upload your transcripts with their accompanying translation.

My friend told me that calling the Admissions Office every single day is a sure-fire way to get in.

Emily: While our office is definitely happy to answer any outstanding questions you have in between submitting your application and hearing back, it’s definitely a myth that you need to contact us frequently to “stay on our radar.” Focus your energy on what you want to say to the Admissions Committee in your application, but be sure to contact us if we can help you with something specific! We are here to assist you as you navigate the application process.

I don’t have to upload my transcripts from community college.

Mikaela: False. You must upload ALL transcripts from each post-secondary institution you attended and received academic credit, including courses taken at a community college, even if you did not earn a degree from said college.

I can’t apply if I already have a graduate degree (or two).

Mikaela: Not true! Many of our students have already earned graduate degrees. HDS understands that people have many reasons for coming back to school, including career changes and professional development among others. However, because you already hold an advanced degree, we encourage you to use the Statement of Purpose to indicate how another advanced degree will benefit your professional and academic goals. Good luck!

Thank you for reading! We hope this post has been helpful to you. Feel free to contact us at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu if you have any questions or concerns. Please note that we Graduate Assistants will be out of the office from December 18th, 2017 at 5PM through January 5th, 2018 at 9AM EST. During that time, feel free to email your questions to admission@hds.harvard.edu. Also bear in mind that the Office of Admissions itself will be closed from 5PM EST on December 22nd, 2017 through 9AM EST, January 2nd, 2018.

Good luck with your applications!

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Catching Up on HDS Happenings

Hey everyone! Sorry for the break in posts! We’ve had a few amazing events on campus that have kept us pretty tied up here at HDS Admissions.

Last Wednesday we hosted Theological Education Day (TED), an open house for prospective students. Maybe I saw you there? I got the chance to have lunch with some prospective students and hear about the things that are driving you all to apply to HDS. If you were not able to attend, no worries! You can find video coverage of the 2017 event on our webpage.

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A brisk fall morning at DivEx. Photo credit goes to Sarah Guzy, our very own Assistant Director of Admissions.

We also hosted our annual Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx) last Tuesday-Thursday and welcomed a new DivEx cohort to campus! At our closing DivEx dinner, Professor Davíd Carrasco gave a beautiful lecture on conviviencia in Mexican culture and Day of the Dead Celebrations, which included sharing some notes that visitors to the Peabody Museum had left at the recent Day of the Dead exhibit. It was a great example of the breadth and depth of the kinds of work that our faculty engage in here at HDS.

Last week, the Religious Literacy Project at HDS and Shared Studios hosted a Portal on campus that allowed students to connect with refugees around the world. Students, faculty, staff, and community members got the chance to FaceTime with refugees, listen to their stories, and engage in meaningful dialogue with people who they might otherwise never get a chance to meet.

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Beautiful fall streets to usher in the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo credit goes to Mikaela Allen.

This weekend, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature is having its annual meeting in Boston. Many current students are going to panels hosted by top scholars from around the world. HDS is also holding a reception for students, alums, and faculty members during the meeting; many of us are excited for the chance to connect with scholars whose work we’ve been reading in our classes.

Now, classes are in full swing and we’re all very excited for Thanksgiving Break. We only have a week of classes left after we return—it’s hard to believe that my first semester is already almost over!

 

K.C. McConnell

Series: Applications, tours, class visits, OH MY

Hello dear, prospective students!

Whether you are applying for this application season, or just beginning to consider your options for graduate study, we would like to introduce you to a few of the many compelling classes offered here at HDS through a series of blog posts that will stretch through this semester and into the next. We hope to bring you beyond the class descriptions given on the website to give you genuine accounts from students enrolled in these courses (though you should still check out the class descriptions for these courses as they are rather informative and thoughtfully constructed).

Our first course in the series, Quests for Wisdom: Religious, Moral and Aesthetic Experiences in the Art of Living, is co-taught by five spectacular professors whose specialties range from China, to Mesoamerica, and Christianity. These include HDS professors Davíd Carrasco and Stephanie Paulsell, as well as anthropology professors Arthur Kleinman and Michael Puett, whose course on ancient Chinese philosophy was featured in this Atlantic article. All four professors are lecturers of exceptional skill who challenge, entertain, and perplex.

The diverse array of professor specialties allows unique insight to arise from multiple, intersecting angles. Each week one of the five professors addresses a particular topic inspired by the quest for wisdom. Then, another professor responds to the first, allowing students to see the ways that wisdom interacts between cultures, ideas, and people. The professor and respondent then take questions from students, spurring compelling discussion. So far, we have explored the theme of “home” through Toni Morrison’s novel “Home,” engaged discussions about the power and function of ritual, watched the movie Of Gods and Men as a class, and have had two phenomenal guest speakers, including Coach Tommy Amaker and Holocaust survivor Judith Sherman. Truly, there is no boredom here.

Each class session has changed the way I view the world, even when I don’t immediately realize it. If you have ever read a novel, or a scripture, and have later found its truths revealed to you in the world, you might have an idea of the type of mind-changing atmosphere this class has to offer.

If you are able to pay us a visit this semester, you can register to visit the course here. It takes place from 2PM to 4PM on Wednesday evenings.

With care,

Mikaela Allen

MTS candidate 2019

Buddhist Studies

HDS and Hogwarts

During my short time at HDS, I’ve come to understand that this school’s strength lies in its ability to make connections between the seemingly disparate—the old and the new, the academic and the personal, the magical and the mundane. Perhaps one of the best examples of the propensity for HDS students to make connections comes in the form of a podcast that reads a young adult novel as if it were scripture. Their most recent episode struck me as particularly relevant to my own time at HDS–and not just because it focusses on The Prisoner of Azkaban, my favorite book in the series. Hosted by Vanessa Zolton ‘16 and Casper ter Kuile ’16 , two graduates of HDS’ MDiv degree, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text asks its listeners to derive spiritual lessons (in the most inclusive sense of the term) from a pop culture phenomenon. While interviewing Casper, he shared the insight that “sometimes [examining religion in secular spaces] feels a little bit like walking through the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron – two very different worlds, with two very different set of reference points and norms!” The podcast makes connections between Harry Potter and spirituality by connecting both to central themes like mercy, justice, imagination, and wonder.

In this most recent episode, Vanessa and Casper talked about friendship in The Prisoner of Azkaban with Sejal Patel, a lawyer and MTS ’14. Sejal mentions how she decided to study at HDS because she realized how religion touches every aspect of culture, including literature and the justice system. She discussed how part of understanding the ways in which religion interacts with ethics in the United States required her to step outside of her comfort zone and take courses in the study of Christianity, including a course on the Niebuhr brothers offered by Professor K. Healan Gaston. Sejal mentions that coming from a Hindu background, she was nervous that she would not be able to understand the readings offered in the course, but her fears were dispelled when Professor Gaston reassured her that “there are ministers-in-training in that class who would help [her] with the Christian piece.”

What struck me about this story was not just Sejal’s willingness to explore the unknown, but the underlying assumption that her fellow HDS students would help her on this journey. This story speaks to the strong sense of community at HDS, as well as the value that students place on each other and the friendships that we develop here. Casper puts it best when he describes HDS as “a place where you can bring your established gifts and new intuitions and turn it into something wholly new and surprising.” HDS has helped me transform my gifts and intuition through connecting me with other students.

I remember how during our new student orientation, the class of 2019 spent the better part of four days getting to know each other through icebreakers, eating in large group meals, attending multiple panel sessions about inclusivity at HDS, having conversations about who we are and what we are here to do, and (most importantly) laughing together. Perhaps it is unusual that a graduate institution would put so much emphasis on fostering friendships between its students, but I think that is one of the things that makes HDS different from any other Divinity School in the world. I know that the focus on friendships has helped me immensely as I continue to adapt to a new school year and a new environment, and because of that I can only be grateful for the exciting yet exhausting four-day orientation. I’m also grateful for Community Teas, an incredible array of student organizations, and our challenging yet non-competitive environment.

Just like Harry needed to rely on Hermoine and Ron to free Buckbeak, I am finding that I need to rely on my community at HDS to achieve my own goals. What makes HDS unique is that community life doesn’t just supplement academic life, but is an essential part of the graduate experience. These connections—between student to student, Harry Potter to sacred text—are at the heart of HDS.

K.C. McConnell

Introduction to the 2017-2018 HDS Admissions Graduate Assistant Team

 

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Pictured from left to right: K.C. Mcconnell, Mikaela Allen, Emily Rogal

Hello  prospective and current HDS Community!

We are K.C. Mcconnell, Mikaela Allen, and Emily Rogal, and we are thrilled to serve as graduate assistants for the Office of Admissions. We work both behind the scenes to prepare for admissions events like DivEx and Theological Education Day,  while also serving as student liaisons to answer many of your admissions related questions. If you have time to see the magnificent HDS campus in person, we will also serve as your enthusiastic tour guides.

One of our favorite tasks is (wo)manning the blog. This year, we hope to utilize the admissions blog as a tool for future students to glimpse what life at HDS actually looks like. In order to do this, we need your help! If you are a current student, let us know if you would like to write or see a blog post highlighting a particular aspect of HDS, whether that be your favorite class/professor, a delicious brunch spot, or coverage of an exciting event. Likewise, if you are a prospective student, please contact us with your curiosities.

Now, we would love to introduce ourselves so you have a better idea of who we are:

My name is Emily Rogal and I am a first year student in the MDiv program. I am a recent graduate of Eugene Lang the New School for Liberal Arts, where I majored in Religious Studies. In my MDiv, I hope to work in several of my interest areas including feminism, liberation theology, Judaism, and ritual as a way of investigating the ways that tradition/modernity can inform one another. In my life outside of school, I am a Jewish educator, a birth/post-partum doula, a follower of dogs on Instagram. I am always scoping out a new place to drink expensive lattes and buy cheap hair dye. I am looking forward to seeing you all on campus this year!

Hi all! I’m K.C.! You may remember me from our summer blog post . I was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia. I am a first-year student in the MTS program. I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2016 with a BA in Religion and a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies. My interests at HDS include Jainism, South Asian religion, animal studies, religion’s influence on social justice movements, and religion in international affairs. Outside of class, I spend my time exploring Cambridge with friends, going on long walks with no particular direction, and hanging out with my rabbit, Beast. His interests include cardboard boxes, devising new ways of escaping from his playpen, and Twin Peaks.

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The aforementioned Beast

Mikaela here! I spent much of my childhood in Cache-Valley, Utah before moving to Louisiana in eighth grade. I received a BA in religious studies from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. At Harvard Divinity School, I am pursuing an MTS within the Buddhist Studies concentration with specific interests in Chinese Buddhist ecology. Outside of class, I enjoy running, folk music, and long conversations over coffee. My favorite place on campus so far is the common area in Div Hall…a land of free coffee and comfy chairs. Obviously, coffee is a major theme in my life.

If you’d like to contact any of us directly either about your blog ideas or with any questions about the student experience-academic life, social life, opportunities around Harvard, etc.- always feel free to email ask_students@hds.harvard.edu. We’d be more than happy to connect with you!

Love,

Emily, K.C., and Mikaela

Quiet Cambridge Summer Days

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In my experiences, college campuses in the summer are equal parts pleasant and eerie. Pleasant, because the hallways, buildings and sidewalks associated with the stress, crowds and busyness of the semester are now ideal places to take a stroll, enjoy the sunshine, or have a long chat with someone you may just wave to and sprint past when there are papers to write. But at the same time, all that emptiness feels a bit strange, like the calm before a storm or the setting of a post-rapture SciFi miniseries where you’ve been left behind.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that we here at the HDS admissions office have been enjoying the low key summer vibe. But with that being said, summer still has its exciting features, some of which I’ll share in this update post.

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First, we have welcomed our newest graduate assistant, K.C. McConnell. K.C. hails from the suburbs of Philly and did her undergrad at Bryn Mawr College where she studied Religion with a focus in Gender and Sexuality. She’s an incoming MTS student interested in South Asian Religion, especially Jainism and will also be a Junior Fellow in HDS’s Science, Religion and Culture Program. She joins me, Keith Esposito (third year MDiv, religion and education), and together we are responsible for giving tours to visiting students and responding to student inquiries. Check out our summer tour schedule if you’re interested in visiting campus, or email us at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu if you’d like an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to study at HDS.

K.C. is also currently studying German with the Summer Language Program (SLP), a unique opportunity for current and incoming HDS students to do an intensive class in one of eight languages ranging from Biblical Hebrew and Latin to French and Pali. SLP classes count towards degree requirements, meaning students can take these language classes over the summer to free up their semester schedule or allow more time for advance study. I also did SLP (in Spanish) as an incoming student, and it was a great way to spend a summer.

Last, we have officially launched the application for our Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx). DivEx is a three day program in November for prospective masters students that introduces our graduate programs that span religious and cultural divides. DivEx is geared especially towards current college undergraduates with a special commitment to diversity and social justice. Oh, and best of all, it’s completely free! The application deadline is September 12th, so be sure to reach out to us if you have any questions.

That’s all for now! Check back soon for more posts.

Fires of Transformation: The HDS Hindu Studies Colloquium Hosts Noon Service

Every week, members of the HDS community gather together at noon on Wednesdays in Andover Chapel to participate in a communal moment of reflection, spiritual worship, and religious practice. Wednesday Noon Service is hosted by a different religious community on the HDS campus every week, allowing all in the HDS community to pray in a multireligious environment not bounded by our many respective traditions.

This year’s Noon Service began with an event hosted by the HDS Hindu Studies Colloquium. The HSC is composed of students who are interested in advancing the study of religious and cultural disciplines from the South Asian subcontinent, especially as they relate to Hinduism. Current Office of Admissions GA, Sujay Pandit, MTS’18, had the opportunity to participate in this Noon Service event as an attendee and as a speaker. Then, he sat down for a conversation with Morgan Curtis and Michelle Bentsman, who run the Hindu Studied Colloquium here at HDS. Here is a part of their conversation about the behind-the-scenes process of Noon Service.

Morgan J. Curtis is a M.Div. studying Tamil literature and South Indian Hindu traditions and Michelle Bentsman is a M.Div. ’18 pursuing studies in Comparative Religion, Hinduism, Judaism, Death & Dying.

Sujay:  Last semester, I took a fantastic class called “Hindu Ethics,” taught by Professor Anne Monius at HDS. The class introduced me to the rich, complex and varied world of Hinduism, specifically through ancient Vedic texts from thousands of years ago. One of the great aspects of studying topics that you are passionate about is that you meet fellow scholars/students who are passionate about the same ideas. Thanks to my Hindu Ethics class, I met the two of you. Towards the end of the semester, Michelle, you requested that I speak at the Noon Service event that the HSC would host in January. I enthusiastically accepted. Michelle, could you describe the Hindu Studies Colloquium and your particular role in the organization?

Michelle: The Hindu Studies Colloquium has been an organization devoted to providing a space for students and community members to openly discuss Hindu texts and concepts. I’m currently co-chairing with Morgan Curtis.

Sujay: I think it is really interesting that the HSC has two co-chairs who plan and collaborate on the events like Noon Service. Morgan, would you tell us what events or circumstances prompted you to want to conduct a Noon Service event?

Morgan: We were approached at the end of fall semester by Kerry Maloney, Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, because there was an opening for the first noon service of spring semester. We wanted to be able to help them out by hosting and also wanted to be able to offer something to the HDS community as they came back from winter break and also as we were all dealing with the inauguration of a new president.

Sujay: Since this was the first noon service of the semester, and students were on winter break for a month, it certainly must have been challenging to plan your Noon Service event for early January when everyone returns! How did you plan the Noon Service event? What were your intentions while preparing the different types of activities, inviting speakers and preparing the ritual moments?

Morgan: Knowing that this would be the first noon service of the semester and also the first noon service post-inauguration, we wanted to be able to hold a space where people could reflect on how they wanted to move forward in light of both of those circumstances. We wanted to invite people to speak who had moved us with their ideas and who we felt would share words that people needed to hear in these troubling times.

Michelle: Morgan and I had been discussing the fires of Rudra (a name for Shiva, commonly associated with destruction in Hinduism) in regard to the political climate. Transformation was on our minds. We wanted to create a space where people could shed some of the heaviness that was rolling in and get inspired through words, ritual, and song. Including a fire ritual felt necessary — not only on the symbolic level, but also in considering Hindu practice and history. Singing Shiva mantras fit strongly with these themes.

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The light. Photo by Chris Alburger

Sujay: Transformation was certainly a key theme in your Noon Service events! I am so grateful to have been a part of the service and to have the chance to speak. Especially because on the day of the HSC Noon Service, I was thrilled to see so many professors, students and HDS community members gather. I was really struck by the start of your Noon Service, which began with a Hindu chant by the HDS choir. A fellow HSC member and classmate of ours, Sunitha Das, spoke about the power of the female goddess figure in Hindu religion.

Thanks to your invitation, I had the chance to give a brief talk entitled, “Hinduism and the Making of the Incomplete Lover.” It’s interesting that this talk actually grew out of our class together. When you asked me to be a part of Noon Service, I knew that I wanted to share with the participants some of the research I did for our Hindu Ethics class on the 17th century, Indian mystic poet Mirabai. Mirabai was a radical writer and voice. In literary history, she is known as a Rajasthani princess who left her wealth and status to worship the Indian god Krishna, the flute-playing, blue-skinned god who often reappears in Indian mythology. I thought Mirabai would be a perfect representative of the devotion that many Hindus have towards poetry, song and God.

Sujay: By participating in Noon Service, I was able to reflect on how the content I was learning in class affected me as a scholar and a member of the HDS community. How has Noon Service contributed to your educational or social lives at HDS? What do you find most valuable about the experience?

Morgan: Honestly, hosting noon service was the first time I’ve attended a noon service. I’ve had classes that conflicted with the service every other semester of my time at HDS.

Michelle: The second Noon Service I ever attended was the day after the presidential election. The room was packed. Many of us were crying, a few were dressed in black. There was hugging, a tenderness in the air. It was the most powerful expression of solidarity and love I had ever witnessed within the HDS community. And though this was a very particular circumstance, it conveyed the centrality of this space within HDS. Even when earth-shattering historical events are at bay, Noon Service is an illuminating space to learn about the faiths and practices of fellow students, tap into a spiritual mode of being, and find meaning and uplift within the week.

Sujay: Michelle, I really felt the centrality of space that you talk about. I think Noon Service really does a fantastic job at bringing our entire community together. I was honored to have the chance to participate in Noon Service alongside the HSC. It was an enriching experience to be able to speak about my research; to gather with fellow HDS students, faculty and staff; and to understand Hinduism more deeply.

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Sujay Pandit, MTS ’18 in Andover Chapel

As we end our conversation, are there any suggestions you would have for other students (especially entering students) who are interested in hosting or participating in Noon Service?

Morgan: I was daunted by the idea of hosting a Noon Service but am glad we did it.  The ability to share this kind of space with members of our community is part of what makes HDS special. It was such a welcoming and warm environment, and I felt like people were very open to the space we tried to create for them. So, I think the trick is to approach the hosting as an offering to the community and to trust that the community will meet you.

Michelle: Do it! If you’re hosting, arrange early. The challenge is well worth it. You get to choreograph/curate a spiritual experience for your peers, which means you can let your faith-based freak flag fly, or ply your skills in important religious activities like giving sermons and songs.

Sujay: Thanks, Michelle and Morgan. I know I am looking forward to attending more Noon Service events in the future, and I hope to see you there!

 

Traveling Beyond the Classroom: J-Term Excursion to Tunisia

Post by: Brittany Landorf, Graduate Assistant (GA)

Hello there! I am a current GA in the Office of Admissions at Harvard Divinity School. When I’m not working in the Office of Admissions, I am pursuing a Masters of Theological Studies degree focusing on Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Islam at HDS. Now that the semester is in swing and the air outside is a little chilly, I have been reflecting on my time spent in the (significantly warmer) city of Tunis located in Tunisia over J-Term and wanted to share my experience. This post is particularly helpful for considering the vast array of resources presented by studying at Harvard University and how to continue learning beyond the classroom.  

One of the wonderful advantages of studying at Harvard Divinity School are the myriad opportunities offered throughout Harvard University. As a HDS student, not only can you take classes at other graduate schools at Harvard and in the Boston area, but you can participate in organizations, journals, and school sponsored initiatives and programs. This past January, I, along with two other Harvard Divinity School students Abdul Rahman Latif (MTS ‘18)  and Lillian McCabe (MTS’18), had the opportunity to partake in a three week long excursion to Tunisia arranged by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. The trip offered a broad cultural, religious, social, historical, and political introduction to Tunisia for graduate students interested in conducting research in the country or Maghreb region.

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View of the port of Bizerte in Tunisia. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

Abdul Rahman, Lillian, and I all focus on Islamic Studies at HDS, yet have differing interests within the field. While traveling in Tunisia, it was exciting to see how we were all drawn to different aspects of the country while sharing the same exhilaration of learning through lived experience. Abdul Rahman noted that being in Tunisia helped him move past more restrictive area studies paradigms. His firsthand experiences enabled him to transcend academic barriers to expand the purview of his work on Ottoman history and Islamic practices. Lillian, who specializes in North African medieval Islamic literature, was struck by how Tunisians learn the history of their country in school and in the country. In speaking with me, she reflected:

The trip reminded me why I love what I study so much, and I returned to campus this semester with renewed energy and new curiosity. Sometimes our classrooms can feel so far away from what we are studying (literally and figuratively); I think that immersive learning experiences like this are invaluable.

Like Lillian, the trip reaffirmed my passion for what I study. Being able to practice my Arabic and learn first-hand about the expansion of contemporary social movements since the revolution was instrumental for my research. Speaking with Tunisian youth who have been turning to new expressions of identity-making through artistic practices and participate in cultural events has led me to a deeper understanding for my own research.

Besides being introduced to the research offerings of the National Archives and National Library—which boast an impressive collection of Ottoman, French, and Tunisian documents–we loved being able to travel throughout the country. Tunisia is incredibly diverse in terms of geography, culture, history, and architecture. Roman and Byzantine mosaics and ruins abound, interweaving with exquisite examples of North African Islamic architecture. French colonial influence is also evident in the new city of Tunis extending outside the medina walls. Some of our favorite places were the Great Mosque of al-Qayrawan (also known as the Mosque of Uqba) in Qayrawan and the Berber town of Takrouna in southern Tunisia.

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Inside the courtyard of Al-Qayrawan, which is one of the few mosques in North Africa open to tourists. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

Three hours south of Tunis, Al-Qayrawan (670 AD) is considered one of the holiest mosques in the Islamic world and is one of the oldest in North Africa, serving as an architectural model for subsequent mosques. Built during the Muslim expansion into North Africa in the year 50 of the hijra, Al-Qayrawan is both a sacred place as well as an emblem of Islamic architecture and art. In addition to visiting the mosque, we wandered through the Al-Qayrawan medina which is famous for both sweets called makroudh and Berber carpets.

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This photo was taken from the village of Takrouna overlooking Berber homes that have since been abandoned. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

A little over an hour to the southeast of the capital, Takrouna is a Berber village believed to have been founded by a group of Berbers and Moors who had immigrated to Andalusia in the 8th century and returned after being expelled in the early 17th century. The village rests upon a large hill overlooking an arid valley dotted with olive trees. While many of the houses below the cliff are abandoned, the ones leading up the road and atop are still inhabited. The Andalusian influence is evident in the open architectural style of the houses. We spent our morning walking through the old village, drinking espresso, Turkish coffee, and traditional mint tea, and eating warm bread made in a cast iron pot. From our seats outside of the café, we could catch a glimpse of the still mostly intact Roman aqueduct that runs 132 km from its source in the town of Zaghouan to Tunis, making it one of the longest Roman aqueducts.

In addition to our introduction to the classical and medieval history in the region, we were able to partake in, and gain a greater understanding, of the lasting effects of French colonial influence and the Tunisian revolution in 2011. We attended several lectures discussing the impact of the Tunisian revolution and witnessed the growing culture and artistic movements in the country. It was especially interesting to hear how education and knowledge surrounding the Ottoman rule and early modern history of Tunisia has changed following the revolution. Now, there is a renewed interested and openness of speech about the early modern history of Tunisia, represented in a new art exhibit of the last Ottoman Beys at the Qasr Al-Said Palace affiliated with the Bardo Museum. There has also been an explosion of culture and investment in Tunisian society. When visiting the medina of Tunis, we met several different organizations that are working to preserve the cultural heritage of Tunisia, including showcasing the former Jewish quarter of the medina called ‘El Hara.’

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One of the exquisite examples of the ornate patterns and blue hues decorating the medina doors. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

For Abdul Rahman, Lillian, and I, the trip reaffirmed our passion for what we study and exposed us to new directions of thought and research. I hope to return to Tunisia in the summer to pursue research that explores how Tunisian youth are expressing identity and negotiating their relationship with Islam in new ways, looking particularly at conversations surrounding art, music, and queer movements. Furthermore, I intend to continue pursuing this research in a doctoral program after concluding my studies at MTS degree. Lillian is also hoping to return to Tunisia and thinks that taking advantage of Center for Middle Eastern Studies’ Office in Tunis will be particularly helpful for her work. This semester, she plans on learning more about the Shi’i history of Tunisia under the Fatimid Empire and how memories of the past are intentionally constructed and selectively included or removed from national history. Abdul Rahman plans to combine his study of Ottoman Turkish language and history with research about Ottoman rule in Tunisia. Traveling to and study in Tunisia has directly impacted and enriched our studies at HDS, helping connect our academic courses and theories with lived experience.

A Campus Tour in the Winter Wonderland of HDS

Now that you may have submitted your application for admission to HDS, you may be tempted to visit Harvard Divinity School. In fact, January is a wonderful time to visit our campus for an official campus tour with one of our Graduate Assistants in the Office of Admissions! However, we understand that some applicants may not be able to visit Cambridge during this time. For those who are unable to visit, we’d love to give you a sneak peek at what a tour at HDS is like, especially this time of year, when our campus is decorated under a quiet bed of snow and chilly temperatures invite breaks into our Rockefeller Café for hot chocolate.

Join our current Graduate Assistants, Samm and Sujay, as they show you around some of their favorite stops on the campus tour! We hope you’ll accompany us virtually, and visit our campus for an in-person tour soon!

Divinity Hall:

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Divinity Hall. Photo by Chris Alburger

 

Sujay: Hi, I’m Sujay, and I’m a first-year MTS I’d love to show you around our campus with the help of my fellow GA, Samm. Divinity Hall (Div Hall, for short) is our first stop. This building was built in 1826 and is the oldest building at HDS. This building is also the first to be constructed outside of the Harvard Yard. While it originally housed the entire Divinity School, and it later became a dormitory, today, Divinity Hall provides multi-purpose spaces including: classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, student resources center, a student lounge and Divinity Chapel – this is where Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of HDS’ most famous alumni, gave his Divinity School Address entitled “Acquaint Thyself at First Hand with Deity,” to the graduating class on July 15th, 1838. Look out for the cool plaque commemorating his speech in the Divinity Hall Chapel (right above the yoga cushions)! This building is also the location for the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. At one point, the office of our Admissions Director was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s bedroom. We hope you’ll stop by and say “hello,” when you visit campus. Right now, Div Hall’s student lounge also has portions of the “Faces of Divinity” exhibit – part of a year-long, campus wide exhibit- that celebrates the 200 year anniversary of HDS. Be sure to check it out!

Andover Theological Library:

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Samm at Andover-Harvard Theological Library

Samm: Hi all, I am currently a first-year MDiv student. Sujay highlights the “Faces of Divinity” exhibit, and you can see more of this exhibit in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. The Andover-Harvard Theological Library was founded in 1836, built in 1910, and renovated in 2001. This is the perfect place to curl up by the large windows and watch the snow fall, as you dive into one of the more than half a million books. In addition to all the journals and periodicals, our library has over 30,000 rare books (including 22 that were published before 1525). Now, that’s a lot of winter reading! But even if you work your way through the Divinity School library, don’t worry.  As a student, you will also have access Harvard’s entire library system, comprised of 73 libraries and with access to over 18 million volumes (and growing). As the largest university library system and private library system in the

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The Stack in Andover-Harvard Library Photo by Chris Alburger

world, you will surely never run out of reading material. When you need to be inspired, take a trip up to the third floor in the Divinity School’s library to check out special exhibits, or walk into the stacks and pretend you’re in an old, mythical library straight out of a fantasy novel.

Andover Hall & Andover Chapel:

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Samm welcoming you to Andover Hall

Sujay: Yes, Samm, our library stacks do resemble a fantasy novel. Speaking of mythical libraries, the next stop is Andover Hall. Built in 1910, Andover Hall is the only example of collegiate gothic architecture at Harvard. This means that it is the building most likely to represent your Harry Potter fantasies! Additionally, Andover Hall houses HDS’s largest lecture room (The Sperry Room), faculty offices, classrooms, administrative offices, the Office of Ministry Studies, denominational counselors, the Braun Room and Andover Chapel. I have many of my classes in Andover Hall this semester, and I look forward to learning in small, seminar classrooms that look out

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A winter wonderland outside of Andover Hall

towards the green trees on campus.

If you have a chance to join us on campus, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the Braun Room during Community Tea on Tuesday afternoons. Community Tea offers a time for the community to connect with one another. As a visitor, you’ll likely have the opportunity to chat with current students and other members of the community that attend Community Tea. After Community Tea, be sure to stop by the Office of Ministry Studies to learn about Field Education (Field Ed) opportunities. Students have completed their Field Ed at a plethora of sites locally throughout Boston and all over the world. The Office of Ministry Studies assists in ensuring that students find Field Ed placements that meet their diverse needs and interests.  Samm, please tell us more about Andover Chapel.

Andover Chapel in Andover Hall:

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Sujay in Andover Chapel

Samm: Sure, Sujay! Andover Chapel is my favorite place for quiet contemplation, or to attend the weekly Noon Service events. Noon Service is a weekly event that takes place every Wednesday in Andover Chapel. Hosted by a different group each week, it’s an opportunity for all in the HDS community to pray with our companions across the boundaries of our many respective traditions. Noon Service is dedicated to creating a safe and respectful environment for diverse student-run groups at HDS. We aim to support and advance the genuine religious pluralism of the School, engaging and honoring the many religious perspectives, commitments, and experiences among us. If you visit campus on a Wednesday, be sure to check out Noon Service. Andover Chapel is one of the most serene and beautiful places on campus. Look for the stunning stained windows and brass organ! But, Sujay, now I’m starting to get hungry; all this walking is making me crave a cookie.

Rockefeller Hall/Rockefeller Café:

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HDS Gear located in The Rock Cafe

Sujay: Okay, Samm, I’m ready for a snack, too. Let’s visit Rockefeller Hall, which houses the Rockefeller Café (also known as “The Rock”). This building is adjacent to Andover Hall and has administrative offices, classrooms and the lively café. During the school year, you’ll find students conversing with each other, doing course work, or just relaxing on the comfy couches. You can also stop by to pick up a treat to eat; the Rock serves both hot and cold entrees. I recommend the chocolate chip cookies! This is the perfect place to take a break on the tour, load up on Divinity School swag, and get ready for the last two stops on the tour.  Incidentially, I’ve also have classes here in Rockefeller Hall. Last semester, I studied the ancient, Buddhist language called Pali in this building. Samm, what’s next on our tour?

Jewett House:

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Samm outside of Jewett House

Samm: Now let’s look at our last two stops. Here’s the first: Jewett House. Jewett House is home to Dean David N. Hempton and his wife, Louanne. Their stunning home is right across from Andover Hall, and they graciously open the doors of their home to current students during Orientation each year! Next door to the Jewett House is the Center for the Study of World Religions. Be sure to wave “hello” to Dean Hempton, if you see him walking around campus.

Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR):

Samm: Next to the Jewett House, you’ll find the Center for the Center for the Study of World Religions, where a number of students reside during the academic year. The CSWR also offers various events and speakers throughout the year. If you are on campus, be sure to take a walk through the halls to see the unique artwork hanging throughout the center. From the CSWR, you can see the backyard of the Jewett House the HDS Community Garden, and the Carriage House, which houses offices for the visiting fellows of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program (WSRP). On your way out, you’ll take a walk through the beautiful garden of the CSWR, where you may find residents playing Frisbee or soccer with their kids, students meditating, or enjoying tea and conversation.

Samm: Thanks for accompanying us on this virtual tour of the Harvard Divinity School Campus. We hope you will visit in-person soon and see more of what our campus has to offer. Sujay, would you tell us what students may expect to see in the Spring?

Sujay: Sure, Samm! We hope you visit us this spring. Our classes will be in session, and you can expect to see students attending a variety of events including: a symposium on Religion in Humanitarian Action, the annual Greeley Lecture for Peace and Social Justice, the Ingersoll Lecture with novelist Marilynne Robinson, and a lecture by Haitian novelist, Edwidge Danticat on the art of Doris Salecedo, just to a name a few. We look forward to welcoming you to our campus!

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.