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.
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.
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.
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.