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

Quiet Cambridge Summer Days


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.

hds campus

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.’


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:


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:


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


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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.

Peters Hill in Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum

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!


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

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

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

Shop at:

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

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

Drink at:

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

A Former HDS Student Reflects on the Anniversary of Reformation Day

Guest Post by Pastor Robin Lutjohann, MDiv 2013

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


Robin Lutjohann, photo from author.

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

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


Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

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

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

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

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


Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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



Working with the Religions and Practice of Peace Initiative

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What brought you to HDS?

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

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

How would you define the RPP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


MTS Candidate Madeline Kinkel photo credit: Brittany Landorf

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

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