The creation of a true "world community," wrote Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in 1960, demanded "goodwill and understanding of the basic principles which govern the lives of the different peoples."
The vice president—soon to be president—of India went on to say that, to this end, the study of religion was crucial, since it had been "a major factor in the development of the civilizations of the world." Radhakrishnan's essay, "Fellowship of the Spirit," marked the opening of a permanent home for Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR).
On the November 21 anniversary of the occasion, Acting Director Anne Monius says that the Center has dramatically changed the way in which scholars study the 'religious other' in the 53 years since Radhakrishnan laid out his vision of pluralism and scholarship.
"CSWR modeled a radically different way of studying religion," says Monius, Professor of South Asian Religions at HDS. "The notion that the key to understanding religions of the world is to actually speak to practitioners—that if you're a person like me who studies pre-modern India, you should go to India and read with scholars from within the community—this was radically new in the 1950s and 1960s. It is now the assumption of good work."
Today, the CSWR brings scholars to Harvard Divinity School from around the world to learn from one another by living together. This year's residents include two Buddhist monks, a scholar of Afro-Caribbean religion, a renowned German professor of Hebrew Bible, and visiting scholars from Japan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Brazil.
“We want to forge a new language for the study of religion that truly can be, if not embraced across academic disciplines, at least intelligible," Monius explained. "This is something the entire field needs. We want to put CSWR and the Divinity School at the center of that conversation."
—by Paul Massari