200 Years of Milestones

Harvard Divinity School


Historic drawing of Harvard

“The theological seminary of the University” is first mentioned in the minutes of the October 18 meeting of the Harvard Corporation, signaling the founding of Harvard Divinity School.


Historic photo of Divinity Hall

The School dedicates its first building, Divinity Hall. “We want powerful ministers, not graceful declaimers, not elegant essayists . . . to make themselves felt in society,” declares the Rev. William Ellery Channing, at the ceremony.


Drawing of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, HDS ’26, urges the School’s senior class to “cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity.” His “Divinity School Address” causes a furor and Emerson is not invited back to campus until 1874.


Photo of Charles Everett

Charles Carroll Everett, HDS ’59, Bussey Professor of New Testament and Dean of the School, offers a class on East Asian religions, the first comparative religion course given in the United States.


Photo of Ephraim Emerton

Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Ephraim Emerton co-founds the American Historical Association, today “the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions.”


Photo of Francis Peabody

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Francis Greenwood Peabody founds Harvard’s Department of Social Ethics.


Photo of Edmund Oxley

Edmund Harrison Oxley, SB ’09, is the first African American to graduate from HDS.


Historic photo fo Andover Hall

Andover Hall is completed and dedicated by Andover Theological Seminary in fulfillment of a plan to share faculty with HDS.


Photo of old books of sermons on the library shelves

HDS establishes the doctor of theology degree, the first doctorate at Harvard in the study of religion.


WWI battlefield photo

Around 50 theological schools from Canada and the United States convene at Harvard for the conference “Problems of Theological Education Arising out of the War.” The gathering becomes the impetus for the transnational Association of Theological Schools.


Portrait painting of La Piana

The Italian historian and priest George La Piana becomes the first Roman Catholic to hold a position at the Divinity School when he is appointed an instructor in church history.


Historic photo of students in study room in AHTL

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences offers the University’s first PhD in the history and philosophy of religion.


Photo of Cadbury giving a speech

HDS professor Henry Cadbury, a Quaker, accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, an organization he co-founded and led for many years.


Emily Thornton Gage with a graduation cap

Emily Thornton Gage becomes the first woman to graduate from HDS.


Frank Moore Cross standing in front of a cave

Professor Frank Moore Cross publishes The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies, a 196-page book that becomes one of the leading texts about the Dead Sea Scrolls and establishes him at the forefront of his field.


Classroom gathering including a handful of men and one nun

In response to the Ecumenical Vatican Council II in Rome, HDS hosts a four–day Roman Catholic–Protestant colloquium, the first of its kind at Harvard.


Harvey Cox circa 1965

Professor Harvey Cox publishes The Secular City. The book becomes an international bestseller and is selected by the University of Marburg as one of the most influential books of Protestant theology in the twentieth century.


Student at the entrance to the Andover-Harvard Theological Library

HDS adds a new graduate degree, the master of theological studies (MTS), which enables students to combine theological studies with studies in a secular field chosen by the student. In the ensuing years, the MTS becomes the largest degree program at the School.


Slater and guests looking at the CSWR courtyard from the balcony

The Center for the Study of World Religions, founded in 1958, dedicates the building that will be its permanent home.


Photo of Preston Williams standing outside Andover Hall

Preston Williams becomes the first tenured African American professor at HDS, and one of only a handful at Harvard. As Acting Dean of the Divinity School in 1974–75, Williams also becomes the first African American to lead one of Harvard’s graduate schools.


Photo of Caroline Bynum

The Women’s Studies in Religion Program is founded, the first initiative at Harvard dedicated to the study of women and gender. That same year, Caroline Walker Bynum begins as the first woman in a full-time teaching position at HDS.


Photo of book pages with text written in several different languages

Harvard College establishes the undergraduate concentration in “the Comparative Study of Religion,” overseen by the joint FAS/HDS Committee on the Study of Religion.


Karefa Smart in her graduation robes, holding her degree certificate

In 1945, Rena Karefa-Smart was the first African American woman to graduate from Yale Divinity School, and, in 1976, she becomes the first African American woman to receive a ThD from HDS.


Photo of Margaret Miles

Margaret Miles, a historian of Christianity, becomes the first tenured female professor at HDS. By this time, women make up the majority of students at HDS.


Photo of James Luther Adams talking to a student

Professor Emeritus James Luther Adams, STB ’27, recognized as the most influential Unitarian Universalist theologian of the twentieth century, is honored with Harvard’s 350th Anniversary Medal for distinguished service to the University.


Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in the 1980s

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is appointed Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity. In 2012 the American Academy of Religion (AAR) recognizes Schüssler Fiorenza’s groundbreaking work with the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understand-ing of Religion.


Jon Levenson sitting with a student

Jon Levenson comes to HDS to hold the Albert J. List chair, HDS’s first professorship in Jewish studies. In 2007, he wins the National Jewish Book Award for Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel.


Diana Eck and students in Harvard Square

Professor Diana Eck and 25 students launch the Pluralism Project to engage with the burgeoning religious diversity in the United States.


Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham returns to HDS as Professor of African American Religious History in a joint appointment with FAS (she was a WSRP research associate in 1980). In 1998, she is named Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African American Studies in FAS.


J. Bryan Hehir

The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, ThD ’77, becomes the first Roman Catholic to lead HDS. A scholar of theology, world politics, and American society, Hehir was the chief author of the U.S. Bishops 1983 pastoral letter on nuclear disarmament, “The Challenge of Peace.”


Leila Ahmed

Leila Ahmed comes to the Divinity School as the first professor of women’s studies in religion, and is appointed to the Victor  S. Thomas chair in 2003. In 2012, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America wins the Grawemeyer Award in Religion.


David Carrasco at an award ceremony, getting a ribbon pinned to his lapel

Davíd Carrasco joins the faculty as Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America with a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology in FAS. In 2004, Carrasco receives the highest decoration the Mexican government can bestow on a foreign national, the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca.


Janet Gyatso teaching a class

Janet Gyatso is appointed the first Hershey Chair in Buddhist Studies focused on “the thought, practice, and values of contemporary Buddhism, both in Asia and the West,” a milestone for Buddhist studies in America. From 2004 to 2010, she co-chairs the Buddhism Section of the AAR.


Jacob Olupona

Jacob K. Olupona is appointed Professor of African Religious Traditions, and Professor of African and African American Studies in FAS. In 2007, he receives the Nigerian National Order of Merit.


Karen King

Karen King, author of What Is Gnosticism?, becomes the first woman to hold the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, the oldest endowed chair in North America.


The Karmapa Lama draping a white khata cloth over a monk student's neck in the Braun Room

The Buddhist Ministry Initiative enables students to study Buddhism and to prepare for service and ministry in Buddhist settings.


Ousmane Kane

Ousmane Kane, joins HDS as the first Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society with a joint appointment as Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in FAS.


Candles and religious figures from multifaith service

The 2015 incoming class includes students who self-identify in 25+ religious and secular traditions, including agnostic, Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Foursquare Gospel Church, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Jain, Mennonite, Mormon, Muslim, “no religious tradition,” Pagan, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Shinto, Sikh, Theosophist, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, […]


2016 Faculty of Divinity

The Faculty of Divinity continues to expand its scope. In addition to those already mentioned, faculty now hold professorships in: African American Religions; Evangelical Theological Studies; Islamic Religious Studies; Pastoral Care and Counseling; Religion and Latina/o Studies; Religious Studies and Education; Science and Religion; and South Asian Religions.

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