September is once again upon us, and after a long hot and dry summer here in Cambridge, we are ready – or almost ready - for the new academic year.
2016 is a year in which religion remains much in the news, for both good and bad reasons. Climate change, gun violence, and domestic and international terrorism worry us all; once again, with humility and courage, we have to face up to our long history of racial discrimination and violence; and, of course, it is a most extraordinary presidential election year. Like everyone else who studies and teaches religions, we at the Center will have to remain alert to changing conditions, and on occasion host quick “Religion in the News” discussion on erupting headline topics; and we will have also to keep asking ourselves about the value of the work we do, scholarship in a world of so many urgent practical and spiritual demands.
Insofar as we can plan, certain things are already in place. It is a particularly significant year at the Divinity School, which during 2016-17 celebrates its bicentennial year, beginning with events on August 30. The Center’s own contribution to the start of the bicentennial comes in the form of our opening panel on September 14, 6–7:30 pm, “How We’ve Studied Religions at the Center (1960–2016).” Our five speakers range across much of the Center’s history: Peter Slater, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, son of founding Director Robert Slater, and author of a forthcoming book that includes a theological analysis of how the Center came to be; former HDS Dean William Graham and Professor Anne Monius, both of whom studied here and continue to contribute much to the life of the School and university; Professor David Mozina, a recent Harvard graduate now on the faculty at Boston College; and Ms. Khytie Brown, a current doctoral student. The panel, with such breadth of experience and learning (respectively, in Christian, Islamic, Hindu/South Asian, Daoist, and African traditions), will open our year with a sense of where we are coming from and where we are going.
Other public events will be posted at our website in the weeks to come—including our endowed lectures—including, in the fall, the Hindu View of Life Lecture (Arvind Sharma, McGill University) on October 20 at 5:15 pm, and the List Lecture in Jewish Studies (Guy Stroumsa, Hebrew University) on November 4 at 5:15 pm. Faculty book events are planned—one in the fall (Charles Stang’s new book), and two or three in the spring (by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Ousmane Kane, and Catherine Brekus. All of these events will be advertised at the time approaches, and you are most welcome to attend. If you are not already on our mailing list, you can be added by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Probably the most significant event on our calendar is our October 14–16 conference, “Religion, Ecology, And Our Planetary Future.” This event marks the 20th anniversary of the ground-breaking conferences held at the Center between 1996 and 1998, on major religious traditions and ecology—a series that became a series of volumes (CSWR, Harvard University Press) that are still in demand. Numerous distinguished speakers collaborate on an exciting program: an initial day of retrospective conversation opens into two days of thinking through the issues toward and strategizing on where the field is going in the next decades, as our awareness of and concern about environmental issues grows every more urgent. I am very happy to be working on this conference with Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Yale), who led the original conferences and remain among the foremost experts in the field. The conference program and RVSP—for the very limited available space—can be found here at our website.
Out of the public eye, other familiar components of the regular life of the Center are taking shape. Ongoing faculty/doctoral colloquia are forming, this year in Comparative Studies, Material Religion, and Literature and Theology. We are happy to be hosting four visiting fellows this semester, and are likely to have a regular fellows’ lunch once again, welcoming all faculty visitors to the Divinity School to share their work. One or more visiting doctoral students will also be in the area.
The residents of the Center, some new, others returning, are back, and once again we have a very diverse and most interesting group, ranging from first-year MTS students to advanced doctoral students, plus a WSRP scholar and a professor on sabbatical. As always, the mix is international and interreligious; and the age range is from the venerable (such as myself!) to Ruben Powell, who is going on 3, and his little sister, who will be born here in October. The community of the Center is a gift for its residents who get to live in this much sought-after space, and for the wider community that will benefit from the vitality and hospitality of our residents. And, of course, the Center continues to be blessed with the extraordinary services of Corey O’Brien (Associate Director), Jane Anna Chapman (Financial Associate/Residential Coordinator), Matthew Whitacre (Staff Assistant), and – as the newest member of the staff – Ariella Ruth Goldberg (Coordinator of Events and Educational Programming).
This is my seventh and last year as Center Director, and I am confident that it will be a most remarkable closing year. I cannot help but note a recent interview with me now posted at the Divinity School website: http://humansofhds.tumblr.com/post/148840515703/francis-x-clooney-sj-parkman-professor-of
—by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Parkman Professor of Divinity, Professor of Comparative Theology