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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The light. Photo by Chris Alburger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sujay Pandit, MTS ’18 in Andover Chapel

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

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

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

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

 

Traveling Beyond the Classroom: J-Term Excursion to Tunisia

Post by: Brittany Landorf, Graduate Assistant (GA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Campus Tour in the Winter Wonderland of HDS

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

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

Divinity Hall:

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Divinity Hall. Photo by Chris Alburger

 

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

Andover Theological Library:

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Samm at Andover-Harvard Theological Library

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

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The Stack in Andover-Harvard Library Photo by Chris Alburger

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

Andover Hall & Andover Chapel:

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Samm welcoming you to Andover Hall

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

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A winter wonderland outside of Andover Hall

towards the green trees on campus.

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

Andover Chapel in Andover Hall:

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Sujay in Andover Chapel

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

Rockefeller Hall/Rockefeller Café:

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HDS Gear located in The Rock Cafe

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

Jewett House:

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Samm outside of Jewett House

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

Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR):

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

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

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

Community and Neighborhood Spotlight: Jamaica Plain

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

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

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

Bike around Jamaica Pond:

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

Bring a book to the arboretum:

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

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!

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

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

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

Shop at:

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

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

Drink at:

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

A Former HDS Student Reflects on the Anniversary of Reformation Day

Guest Post by Pastor Robin Lutjohann, MDiv 2013

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

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Robin Lutjohann, photo from author.

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

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

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Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard Staff Photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Working with the Religions and Practice of Peace Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What brought you to HDS?

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

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

How would you define the RPP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MTS Candidate Madeline Kinkel photo credit: Brittany Landorf

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

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

Encountering Faces of Divinity: An Exhibit of Inclusion

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

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

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

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

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Image from Faces of Divinity exhibit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deepening Discernment through DivEx

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

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

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Panoramic View of Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School

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

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

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

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

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

All the best on your journey,

Samantha Melton, M.Div. ’19

Meet the 2016-2017 Office of Admissions Graduate Assistants!

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Meet the 2016-2017 Admissions Office Graduate Assistants: 

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

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

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

Who we are: 

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

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

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

Why are you here/what brought you here?

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

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

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

What do we do as Graduate Assistants at HDS?

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

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

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

What is one thing we are excited for this year? 

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

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

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

What do we like about the community? 

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

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

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

Favorite moment at HDS, thus far?

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

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

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

Favorite pie?

SP: 3.14159

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

SM: Nothing beats a homemade pie of any type!

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