Spring 2006 issue cover


A Call for Readers to Join the Cause

Cover illustration by Heads of State. Cover design by Point Five Design.

By Will Joyner

At the risk of sounding like a voice on a public radio station—or, rather, in sympathy with public radio stations everywhere—I need to use this Perspective column to ask for our readers’ greater financial support. With this, the fourth issue of a redesigned, reconceptualized Harvard Divinity Bulletin, we who produce the magazine have a much clearer view of what it will take to sustain such an ambitious venture over the next few years, and an even clearer understanding of why it needs to be continued.

In the last year, as issues of the new Bulletin have made their way to all points of the globe, we have received “contributions in lieu of a subscription cost” from hundreds of people. We are extremely grateful for these contributions, as well as for the notes of encouragement, thanks, and delight that are inevitably clipped to the checks. To borrow from the vocabulary of a public radio appeal, however, we need to hear from all of you, and you number at around 25,000. (Also, of course, no contribution is too small or too large. Please see the masthead on page 3 for our address and other details.)

Many of the readers who have contributed in the last year have been on the Bulletin mailing list for years and now realize they would like to help in our more ambitious mission: to provide a nonsectarian review of religion, attentive to contemporary realities, that will have appeal both within and beyond academe. Even more of these contributors, though, have been people who had never before heard of the Bulletin but then were handed a copy of the new magazine by a friend. Many in this latter group ask for, and provide financially for, several people to be added to the mailing list. And in doing so, they often comment that these others are companions in a reading group or a study group at a church or synagogue.

The articles and poems in the Bulletin are not only being read, they are also being constructively discussed.

This kind of comment is probably the best evidence we can offer in making a case that this magazine, in this form, needs to be sustained: The articles and poems in Harvard Divinity Bulletin are not only being read, they are also being constructively discussed, among friends and families and in more public gatherings. And that is deeply heartening at a time when divisive subjects of religion are so often at the center of empty ideological shouting matches and even violent confrontation. (If you are part of a study group that would like to discuss any of our four issues, back copies are available at $8 apiece, postage included.)

Our strategy to make the financial future of this Bulletin more secure also includes applying for grants from foundations, appealing to major donors, and increasing advertising to the extent that we can. In this way, we hope to spread actual support of the publication among the various constituencies interested in Harvard Divinity School, complementing our democratic editorial approach—that is, the inclusion in these pages of a variety of points of view, from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds.

As we move forward on each of these fronts, we regularly encounter two questions: First, why can’t Harvard Divinity School foot the whole bill? And second, does the Bulletin need to be so elegantly produced?

The assumption implicit in the first question is that the School, because it is part of Harvard University, has bottomless coffers. This is certainly not true; all Schools at Harvard exist, for the most part, independently when it comes to money, and although the Divinity School is relatively well-endowed, at this crucial moment in its, and the world’s, history it needs to concentrate resources on faculty-building and, especially, on an increase in financial aid for its students.

The School’s leadership has been very generous in helping us to bring this incarnation of the Bulletin to life, sees the publication as a prized asset, and will enthusiastically continue to provide us with our core budget. But even as an intellectual and cultural asset, in order to fully help advance HDS’s central mission—training the best, and best informed, leaders in religion scholarship, in ministry, and in other avenues of public service—the Bulletin must come closer to breaking even at the end of the fiscal year.

Is this Bulletin too “swank” a publication, to use one reader’s adjective? Here, the assumption seems to be a kind of Puritan notion that a publication focused on religion—especially one attached to an academic institution—should embody plainness or self-denial, as well as frugality. We would argue, first, that we do embody frugality: we have worked hard to be as economical as possible in every aspect of production, given our design. When the staffs of comparable magazines—at Harvard and without—inquire as to the overall cost for one issue of this Bulletin, they are usually shocked at how low it is.

Most important, however, we would argue that the presentation of ideas is greatly enhanced by the best design and  illustration available—and scores and scores of our correspondents have confirmed that they agree. Frankly, we have set a high bar for ourselves—we are determined to find a place for this Bulletin among the best “general-interest” critical magazines in the country, and to increase its circulation accordingly—and to succeed we are trying to maintain the highest professional standards. In a related vein, we also firmly believe that professional writers, scholars, and artists should be paid fairly for their work—and that any professional publication that does not do so should rethink.

This issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin features an unorthodox take on music and religion, and is, we think, as provocative and worthy of attention as the three issues before. As you sit and enjoy it, please, as you would with public radio, reflect on its possible absence. Then consider taking out your checkbook and “joining” us in our worthy cause.

Will Joyner is editor of the Bulletin.

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