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While giving tours to prospective HDS students, I am sure to bring them to see the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR). However, even as a current student and a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Admissions, I felt that I did not know as much about the CSWR as I would have liked, so I arranged to meet with Dorie Goehring, the Staff Assistant at the CSWR. I was surprised to learn that Dorie graduated from HDS with a Master of Divinity in Islamic studies and theology in 2016. It is always great to hear how HDS Alums continue to support and engage the HDS community.

Read our conversation below to learn more about the CSWR!

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Art in the common room of the CSWR. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Q: What sorts of people live here? Do students from other Harvard graduate schools live here?

Dorie: Usually, about 25-30 people live in the CSWR’s 13 apartments at any given time. There are two studios, six one-bedroom units, four two-bedrooms, and one three-bedroom. Most residents are affiliated with HDS, either as visiting fellows or as HDS students. However, the CSWR is open to students outside HDS whose research is deeply involved in religious studies.

Q: Is it accurate for me to describe the CSWR as a living learning community? What sorts of roles do students within the community take on?

Dorie: There is a weekly, mandatory event every Wednesday called the World Religions Cafe in which each resident takes turns presenting their research. This usually looks like a 30 minute presentation followed by Q+A with the audience.

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A view of the CSWR garden. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Q: Can you give me a quick overview of the CSWR and its current role at Harvard and within the larger world of religious studies?

Dorie: Yes! So, the CSWR was founded in 1957 with the help of anonymous donors. It was intended to serve the Harvard community by offering courses about world religions to both graduate and undergraduate students, “to give ministers a sympathetic appreciation of other religions, and to stimulate undergraduate interest in religions of the world.” Among its directors have been Robert H.L Slater (Buddhism), Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Islam), John B. Carman (Hinduism), Lawrence E. Sullivan (South America and Central Africa), Daniel Swearer (Buddhism), Francis X. Clooney (comparative theology), and the currently residing director Charles Stang (Early Christianity). For more information on the directors and their unique projects and initiatives, please see the CSWR website.

It is also important to know that the CSWR played a major role in shaping the study of religion at Harvard and the world, and is known for reaching out beyond the Harvard community through conferences, colloquia, and publications.

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Library on the second floor. Photo credit to the CSWR.

Q: How can students get involved with the CSWR even if they don’t live there?

Dorie: Great question! The CSWR is open to the HDS community from 9AM-5PM Monday-Friday. It is also open to HDS students for advertised events like lectures, colloquiums and workshops. The best way to get involved at the Center is to spend time attending these events! There is also a beautiful meditation room, a common room, a conference room, and a modest library open to students as long as they are not reserved for other uses. Don’t forget to relax in the courtyard garden!

Thank you for reading!

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A stone path through the CSWR garden. Photo credit to HDS Office of Communications.

Mikaela Allen,

MTS candidate, Buddhist Studies, ’19