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The Charles. Photo by Chris Alburger

The Charles River. Photo by Chris Alburger

“You need to take a class with Wildman.” That was the prevailing theme.

See, HDS isn’t just a part of the larger, multifaceted Harvard University community. It’s also a member of the Boston Theological Institute, or the BTI, which is a wonderful consortium of theological schools and seminaries in the greater Boston area where HDS students are welcome to enroll as cross-registered course members. I knew this when I came to HDS, but the idea initially seemed like more hassle that I was interested in diving into. Paperwork? Approval? Term-length discrepancies between schools? Earlier semester start dates? Commute times? Yeah, I figured. I’d just stick with Harvard and call it a day.

But then, two things happened. Or else, the same thing happened twice, in two very different places. One of my colleagues, a BTI student from Boston University enrolled in an HDS class, told me flat-out that I needed to take a class with Wesley Wildman, the convener and director of the Religion and Science PhD program at BU. The more she told me about his courses, the more interested I became, but it was more of an idle interest, a thought on the backburner.

Then I went to Germany, where I lectured on Whiteheadian Metaphysics outside of Düsseldorf. On a cultural excursion to Essen, I got to talking with a professor from Pamplona, Spain, who just so happened to be an HDS alum, as well as a BU alum. We were discussing the music of Lana del Rey, of all things, when he said: “I’ve been thinking, after hearing your paper presentation and getting an idea of what you’re interested in, that if you’re going back to Boston, you need to take a class with Wildman.”

Simple coincidence, similar colleague interests regardless of location, or the universe trying to tell me something: whatever it was, I made the decision then and there. I was going to look up Wesley Wildman’s course offerings, and I was going to see what it would take to enroll in a class with him.

As it turns out, cross registering through the BTI is much easier than it first appeared. The paperwork is simple, and all it takes is a few trips to your two registrars: HDS, and the institution you’re looking to register with. You might need a signature from the professor whose class you’re taking, but aside from that? Nothing too arduous.

And from there? Cross-registration really is “all gravy,” as they say.

You see, HDS specifically, and Harvard at large by extension, houses some of the world’s topmost authorities on a vast array of diverse subjects. However, even Harvard cannot encompass all of the possible interests its students might possess. Enter the BTI, through which I was able to enroll in a course on religious naturalism from one of the foremost researchers at the intersection of science and religion—a specialty in which Harvard’s resources are limited by comparison.

Aside from projects and assignments that were intellectually invigorating as well as challenging, what surprised me most about the experience of cross-registering at BU was the near-instantaneous camaraderie in the classroom—the sheer sense of community that I felt absolutely a part of despite the fact that I was one of the only master’s level students in the primarily PhD level course, and the only student from “elsewhere,” from outside the pre-existing cohort of scholars that my colleagues had developed in their program. Not only did my classmates and I sustain an ongoing dialogue throughout the seminar, but our professor was also both a brilliant facilitator of discussions and an active participant in the conversations that took place. We were also able to contribute to our professor’s online collection of resources on Religious Naturalism through our reflections, books reviews, and other research contributions and commentaries, which was a wonderful opportunity for young scholars such as ourselves to write for a wider audience of interested readers.

Thus, in terms of what cross-registration brought to my overall theological education, I’d say without hesitation that it broadened the scope of my academic proficiencies not only by means of the material taught, but also be exposing me to and engaging me with a unique style of learning not just with my professor, but within a different culture of academia outside of Harvard. More than this, however, studying at BU connected me with another community—not only the Boston University community, but the city of Boston at large. I was able to explore the heart of that great “city across the River,” a place that, paradoxically, some Harvard students rarely venture forth to discover. I frequented small cafes and Thai restaurants on Commonwealth Ave. I learned that the quickest way to get to BU Central was to walk from Cambridge along the Charles, rather than to brave the Green Line in rush hour. I became enmeshed in a broader experience of the greater Boston area than I would have otherwise known, I came to hold a greater stake in the city—came to feel it was mine, and that I belonged to it in a way I hadn’t before.

I experienced this perhaps most poignantly in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when I found myself a member of multiple communities as they came together to support the victims and those in need: the Harvard Community, the BU Community, and the city of Boston at large. In the wake of tragedy, BU School of Theology students were connecting students across the BTI to check in as “okay” in the wake of violence, to gather in support and reflection/prayer, to participate in outreach and volunteer work in support of all those victimized, and to provide resources—both ministerial and academic—in the hopes of making sense of the events that occurred and connecting them to a broader dialogue on human violence as it occurs every day across the globe. That kind of unity is not only powerfully transformative, but also immensely affirming of the work we do in Divinity School.

And while I know I would have born witness to it as a member of the HDS community regardless, I feel especially grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of larger support network, as well—and yes.

I do credit just a little bit of that to those twin conversations in Cambridge and Essen, about a professor and his classes over at BU.