HDS People Feature: Zachary Davis and Ministry of Ideas

MinistryofIdeasLogoMikaela* here! If you have been perusing our blog at all, you should all know that HDS is full of amazing people doing wonderful things. I was fortunate enough to interview one of these people for you, dear readership. What follows is an interview with HDS student Zachary Davis, whose podcast, Ministry of Ideas, was featured in a BuzzFeed article titled “27 Podcasts You Need To Start Listening to in 2018.” Read on to discover the web connecting Zach, HDS, the Religious Literacy Project (RLP), and his podcast, Ministry of Ideas.

*I’m a current MTS student, a Graduate Assistant at the HDS Office of Admissions, as well as a regular contributor and point-person for this blog. You can find one of my more recent posts here.


Zach sitting outside Andover Hall on an exceptional Spring day.  Photo credit to Mikaela Allen.


Mikaela: So, I’m thinking we should start with broader questions and gradually delve into more specific details about the podcast. First, can you briefly introduce yourself?

Zach: I grew up in Saint George Utah, which is located in the very South-Western most border of the state. It is surrounded by red bluffs and national parks. I was raised in a devout Mormon home and was always very committed to my faith. I served a two-year mission in Southern Spain, and as an undergraduate, I studied international relations and philosophy. In a lot of my political science research, my professors would often get exasperated with me because I kept wanting to know the deeper motivations and meanings behind many of the phenomena that we studied. I didn’t know it at the time, but I really wanted to go to a divinity school.

Mikaela: What program are you in here at the Divinity School and what are you studying?

Zach: Now, I am an MTS student studying philosophy of religion with a special focus on the origins of modernity. I’m interested in the role that religion or the lack of it has played in shaping our self- perception as modern subjects. I’m curious about why disbelief became widespread in the West, the consequences of that disbelief, and what sources of meaning, community, and comfort are available in the absence of traditional religious institutions.

Mikaela: Can you speak to the general inspiration for Ministry of Ideas? How does the podcast relate to your time and your studies at Harvard Divinity School?

Zach: I was interested in taking some of the ideas I was encountering at the Divinity School and making them available to a public audience. I am particularly interested in how understanding the historical context of ideas better equips us to understand and critique the assumptions we often take for granted. My hope is that the show might empower people to have faith that they can change their circumstances, that history is not inevitable, but that we can in fact change our destiny as individuals and as communities. I like to think that the episodes are historically-informed secular sermons.

Mikaela: I know Ministry of Ideas is an initiative of the Religious Literacy Project, could you speak to that as well?

Zach: We are part of the Religious Literacy Project because I am convinced that understanding religion is absolutely essential to building the kind of pluralistic society that we should all be striving for. Religion is everywhere. Even if you live in a totally secular bubble, religion still shapes a huge amount of our traditions and contexts. It also continues to have a huge influence in politics. So many things that seem mysterious about American politics can be better understood when you have an understanding of some of the religious assumptions or beliefs that underpin them. For example, opposition to environmentalism is not a purely political or economic issue, it is a religious issue. There are many Christians who don’t believe that God would allow the planet to come to some kind of irreversible harm, and so understanding religion is essential for developing strategies that can lead to compromise and shared solutions.

Mikaela: What factors go into choosing individual topics for the podcast? Does your time at the Div School affect what sorts of topics you decide to discuss?

Zach: I do see this as my ministry, to use history to change the world for the better, to empower people to be more informed and engaged citizens, and to bring religious ideas and concepts to a wider public that often never has a chance to encounter them. I tend to choose episode subjects based on some kind of matrix between the urgent and fascinating and try to meet somewhere in the middle. Not all of the episodes are explicitly about religion, but we almost always find ways of bringing religious insights into the topics. One of the things that I am dedicated to in the show is to resist the way that religious studies is often pushed to the side and sort of left isolated from the rest of contemporary issues and concerns. As I mentioned before, it needs to be tightly entwined with the rest of our methods of analysis.

Mikaela: Why choose the platform of a podcast when there are so many ways you might reach an audience?

Zach: One of the reasons a podcast is powerful is that you can bring in other people’s voices. The model of scholarship that I am drawn to is one that is collaborative and dialogic, and so rather than pretend to be an expert, which I’m not, I interview people with expertise and allow them to explain in their own words these issues of great concern. I also think the spoken voice is a powerful medium for conveying emotion and enthusiasm, and as anyone has attested, reading a sermon and hearing a sermon are two different things. It’s also a way to reach people where they are. And many people are getting information and education through podcasts these days. I think that scholarly communication is undergoing exciting changes, and I’m very happy to be involved in some of those new developments. I think HDS can continue to play an important role in communicating research through these new forms of media.

Mikaela: How does HDS support you in this project?

Zach: I have been unbelievably supported by my mentor Diane Moore who is the director of the Religious Literacy Project. The spirit of the show reflects the wisdom and guidance I have received from her over the past two years. In addition, HDS has built a new recording studio, which we use to record our episodes. We are very excited about continuing to think of new ways to work together with faculty and students to highlight their research. I am currently working with students in a class called “Religion, Conflict, and Peace” taught by Diane Moore. As part of the course, she has given her students the option of developing a Ministry of Ideas podcast episode as their final project. I am working with five of them and we have begun setting up interviews and teaching the production skills and the writing format for putting together podcast episodes. My hope with Ministry of Ideas is that it becomes an active learning lab for audio documentary storytelling, a way to highlight new research in compelling and engaging ways.

Mikaela: I am a huge fan of the episode (In)efficiency,” and was just wondering what inspired you to produce that particular episode? And, for our prospective student audience, do you have any advice about the cult of efficiency in graduate school?

Zach: Many if not most of the episodes are probably confessions of my own sins, and it’s almost impossible to resist the cult of efficiency in contemporary life. I was driven to understand why we constantly feel so rushed and compressed with time, and why so many decisions about life are arbitrated by its degree of efficiency, usually economic efficiency. Working on that episode helped me to realize the importance of resisting the logic of the market. That we are not human capital, we are human beings, that we need contemplation and slowness, that what we call wasting time is often the best use of our time, that we should do more useless things like going on walks with friends or learning to play the ukulele.

There you have it! If you missed the link to the Ministry of Ideas webpage at the beginning of this post, you can also find it below:


While you’re at it, check out the Religious Literacy Project’s 2018 Religious Literacy Summer Institute for Educators. Please note that applications will be accepted until April 2nd, 2018.

Mikaela Allen

MTS Candidate 2019, Buddhist Studies


Some Things to Think About


A sunny, snowy day at Andover Hall. Photo credit to the HDS Office of Communications. Photographer Kristie Welsh.

Hi, my name is Emily Rogal, and if you’ve called or emailed the Office of Admissions, I’m one of the three Graduate Assistants you’ve probably talked to. A few weeks ago, the HDS Admissions Graduate Assistants hosted a webinar specifically for those awaiting decisions for this application cycle. What follows is a condensed, blog-friendly version of the webinar with a cute, furry surprise at the end. Unlike the original webinar, this post is intended to provide food for thought for all audiences, whether you have already submitted your application or are still discerning which graduate schools you might like to attend in the future.

In the period between submitting my application and hearing back from the Admissions Office, I was a nervous wreck. I was completing my senior year at the New School in Manhattan (Go Narwhals!). It was almost impossible to complete my course work and senior thesis while thinking about a room full of stern faced people in business suits poring over my application while around a boardroom (this is also totally not how this process is!). While there isn’t anything that can necessarily alleviate the nerves of this time period, now that I am a current student, I know that there are a number of things that I could have started thinking about.

  1. Start thinking about housing, but you don’t need to know where you’ll be living right now.

In the late spring/early summer, the Office of Student Life will be sending out many resources to all incoming students regarding housing. So, you do not need to begin actively searching for housing at this point. Many students do not find housing until the summer before they begin school. However, there are some things you can start thinking about now. For example, it’s important to start thinking about what your negotiables are versus what you know you will need in way of housing. Some examples might include a longer commute for more affordable housing, living with roommates or living alone, and whether or not you will be able to bring your beloved pet. Many students live in Cambridge or Somerville for off campus housing, or in other neighborhoods such as Dorchester, Medford, Watertown, Brighton/Allston, or Jamaica Plain if they’re looking for more affordable options with a longer commute. While most HDS students live off campus, there are many Harvard owned properties that are near campus. The Graduate Commons Program, the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR), and Cronkite dorm are all potential places to find on campus housing.

  1. While waiting to hear back from the Office of Financial Aid, you can start looking at outside funding.

The Office of Admissions has compiled a small list of possible outside funding opportunities, which can be found on the website. Additionally, a quick Google search can turn up many other scholarships available to graduate students. In particular, if you belong to a specific religious tradition, you may want to reach out to those organizations to see if they offer any scholarships. Many of these scholarships have deadlines that are before admissions decisions come out, so we encourage you to apply now.

Sometimes, outside scholarships can impact your financial aid package, so it’s a good idea to reach out to the financial aid office of any school you apply to in order to notify them of this extra funding once it has been awarded.

  1. Start thinking about whether or not you will need to have a job while you are here, and explore your options.

It may be helpful to know that many students are eligible for work study, which allows you to find a job on campus. You will not know if you are eligible for work study until after you are admitted, at which point you can contact the Office of Financial Aid.

Examples of work study jobs include working at various libraries on Harvard’s campus, working in the admissions office, and being a student assistant in other offices. If you are not eligible for work study, there are still a number of places on campus that you can work, so be sure to check out the Student Employment Office at Harvard.

  1. The timeline for what’s next.

1) In mid-March you will receive your decision via email. In order to access this, you will need your login information for the application. If you’ve forgotten your password, now may be a good time to remind yourself and write the information down somewhere.

2) Within 24 hours of receiving your decision, if you applied for need based aid, you will get an email from the Office of Financial Aid with your financial aid package.

3) In early April we will be hosting an Open House for all admitted students. This event will offer the opportunity for you to meet faculty and current students, tour the campus, and sit in on classes. If you are unable to attend, we will be filming the event for you to watch at a later time.

4) If you are admitted, April 15th is the deadline to accept or decline your offer of admission.

We hope that this information is helpful. In the meantime, try and take some deep breaths, get some sunshine, and if all else fails, watch some videos of cute dogs on YouTube (I’m a big fan of this one, if you need a recommendation).

Even though the original content of this post had recent applicants in mind, we hope this version is helpful for all of our readers to give you a sense of the sorts of things you might want to consider if you plan to apply to HDS or any other graduate school. For any questions, or if you’re interested in connecting with one of our Student Ambassadors, please feel free to reach out to our Graduate Assistants email address at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu


Emily Rogal,

Master of Divinity Candidate, 2020


Sky-Bridges and Labyrinths: The Long Wait


HDS Campus 2008

HDS campus after the summer 2008 installation of the campus green and labyrinth. Photo credit to the HDS Office of Communications. Photographer Kristie Welsh.

Our HDS Admissions Blog has served many a prospective student during the application and matriculation process. I’ve compiled an annotated list of the posts that were most helpful to me during the anxious period between submitting my application, hearing back about The Decision in mid-March, and making my decision to matriculate in April. I do hope that these posts will bring comfort and insight to those awaiting decisions, those only beginning to consider HDS, and even those of us already spending evenings in Andover Library, searching for a sense of renewal in a new semester.

  1. Shopping Period

Now that you’ve made it through the first half of application season, you will have plenty of time to truly think about where you are and where you hope to be. In this post, HDS alum Chris Alburger explores a Harvard tradition called “Shopping Week” that takes place the first week of every semester to enable students to, quite literally, shop their classes like an academic grocery store. Similar to choosing classes, many of you also applied to one or more graduate programs besides HDS. Chris wonderfully ties shopping week to shopping for graduate schools, making it known that you, dear applicants, have entered your own kind of “Shopping Period” this spring.

  1. My Last Semester at HDS: The Best Advice I Can Give You

It might seem strange to include a post about someone’s last semester at HDS when you all have yet to begin your first semester here. Read on for advice from HDS alum Zach Kerzee that will last you through your anxious wait, prepare you to meet your peers at the Open House for Admitted Students, the Summer Language Program, orientation and beyond. As someone who came directly from undergrad, the advice to “embrace mediocrity” even helped me complete my honors thesis while juggling multiple graduate school applications!

  1. The Future Will Arrive on Time: Tackling Application Season

This wisdom filled piece, written by HDS alum Cody Mussleman, transforms anxiety about the future to a sense of wonderment and excitement. Repeat with me: the future will arrive on time.

To those awaiting decisions: You will doubtless experience at least one or two restless nights between now and the release of decisions in mid-March. Many people talk about how exciting this time can be, how fun it can be to imagine where you might go and what you might accomplish there. Although you will spend ample time daydreaming about the wonderful opportunities that await, you will likely experience challenging emotions as well. While your friends and family gather around you in excitement as you await the decisions of one or more graduate schools, it can feel that there is no room for the complicated emotions that come with significant life decisions, especially when one such possibility is rooted in a school as well-renowned and unique as Harvard Divinity. For some of you, admission to HDS will illuminate an easy and obvious path across a sunbathed sky-bridge. For others, it will open a deep and winding labyrinth of serious personal inquiry for financial, academic, familial, or heart-reasons that evade categorization. Either way, the journey is yours. Only you can know if HDS is the right fit for you. It is not the right fit for everyone.

For those travelling across the sky-bridge, I am rooting for you. For those travelling through the underground tunnels of your being, I am rooting for you too. For those who decide to join us next fall, I look forward to hearing your story and sharing this wonderful place with you. For those who decide differently, know that there are always many paths. And lastly, for all of us already here, may we never forget that although HDS provides fertile soil, we are planted saplings who bring fresh life.

Mikaela Allen 

Master of Theological Studies Candidate, Buddhist Studies, 2019



The Life of a Dual-Degree Student


Robin in Harvard Yard. Photo credit to Pepples G.

Hello everyone! My name is Robin El Kady and I am an international student from Berlin, Germany. I am currently doing a dual Master’s degree at both the Divinity School at Harvard University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The dual-degree program has offered me a unique and incredible opportunity to juxtapose the different fields I am interested in, namely: international relations (with a focus on public international law and conflict resolution) and the interrelationships among religion, ethics and politics.


As far as the application process is concerned, during my first semester at Harvard I had the luck that a friend of mine told me about the opportunity to pursue a dual degree with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; I was instantly excited. She had applied to both Harvard and Tufts at the same time. I, however, had started at Harvard without having applied to Tufts. Luckily, like me, you can apply to a dual degree during your first year at the Divinity School.

Besides studying two academic disciplines, my dual degree has allowed me to meet people with different mindsets and has exposed me to contrasting sensibilities. Both of my schools have different academic approaches, highlight contrasting elements during classroom discussions, and require other ways of thinking. The social realm of the schools and the individual time spent with my classmates and friends has been just as enriching as my academic experience.


Robin at the Fletcher School holding the flag of Germany. Photo credit to Pepples G.

It can be a bit challenging to coordinate all of the classes at both HDS and Tufts, since I must fulfill all of the requirements at both universities, but the Registrar Office at HDS has been extremely helpful with the organization of my dual-degree.  With their help, I have had a very positive experience organizing and managing my dual degree. I have had to spend three semesters at Harvard and three semesters at Tufts. Since both Harvard and Tufts require their graduate students to study for four full semesters in order to complete their programs, I have to transfer one semester of classes taken at Tufts to Harvard and the other way around.

After a total of three years, I will have received two Master’s. As a dual-degree candidate, navigating contrasting academic environments, investigating different issues, and being exposed to a plethora of diverse mindsets has taught me to contemplate the world through multiple lenses. It has been such a challenging and enriching experience. I highly recommend exploring the option to pursue a dual-degree.


Robin at the Fletcher School. Photo Credit to Pepples G.

Robin El Kady
Harvard Divinity School
Master of Theological Studies Candidate, 2018
Concentration: Religion, Ethics, Politics

Tufts School of Law and Diplomacy
Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy Candidate, 2018
Concentration: Public International Law and International Mediation/Conflict Resolution

For more information on the dual degree program at HDS and the steps you can take to apply, please see the HDS Admissions website here.


Common Questions about the CSWR (and their answers!)

While giving tours to prospective HDS students, I am sure to bring them to see the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR). However, even as a current student and a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Admissions, I felt that I did not know as much about the CSWR as I would have liked, so I arranged to meet with Dorie Goehring, the Staff Assistant at the CSWR. I was surprised to learn that Dorie graduated from HDS with a Master of Divinity in Islamic studies and theology in 2016. It is always great to hear how HDS Alums continue to support and engage the HDS community.

Read our conversation below to learn more about the CSWR!


Art in the common room of the CSWR. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Q: What sorts of people live here? Do students from other Harvard graduate schools live here?

Dorie: Usually, about 25-30 people live in the CSWR’s 13 apartments at any given time. There are two studios, six one-bedroom units, four two-bedrooms, and one three-bedroom. Most residents are affiliated with HDS, either as visiting fellows or as HDS students. However, the CSWR is open to students outside HDS whose research is deeply involved in religious studies.

Q: Is it accurate for me to describe the CSWR as a living learning community? What sorts of roles do students within the community take on?

Dorie: There is a weekly, mandatory event every Wednesday called the World Religions Cafe in which each resident takes turns presenting their research. This usually looks like a 30 minute presentation followed by Q+A with the audience.


A view of the CSWR garden. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Q: Can you give me a quick overview of the CSWR and its current role at Harvard and within the larger world of religious studies?

Dorie: Yes! So, the CSWR was founded in 1957 with the help of anonymous donors. It was intended to serve the Harvard community by offering courses about world religions to both graduate and undergraduate students, “to give ministers a sympathetic appreciation of other religions, and to stimulate undergraduate interest in religions of the world.” Among its directors have been Robert H.L Slater (Buddhism), Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Islam), John B. Carman (Hinduism), Lawrence E. Sullivan (South America and Central Africa), Daniel Swearer (Buddhism), Francis X. Clooney (comparative theology), and the currently residing director Charles Stang (Early Christianity). For more information on the directors and their unique projects and initiatives, please see the CSWR website.

It is also important to know that the CSWR played a major role in shaping the study of religion at Harvard and the world, and is known for reaching out beyond the Harvard community through conferences, colloquia, and publications.


Library on the second floor. Photo credit to the CSWR.

Q: How can students get involved with the CSWR even if they don’t live there?

Dorie: Great question! The CSWR is open to the HDS community from 9AM-5PM Monday-Friday. It is also open to HDS students for advertised events like lectures, colloquiums and workshops. The best way to get involved at the Center is to spend time attending these events! There is also a beautiful meditation room, a common room, a conference room, and a modest library open to students as long as they are not reserved for other uses. Don’t forget to relax in the courtyard garden!

Thank you for reading!


A stone path through the CSWR garden. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Mikaela Allen,

MTS candidate, Buddhist Studies, ’19


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: 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!


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!


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.


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.


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



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.


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!


Emily, K.C., and Mikaela