If our twenty-first century is making anything abundantly clear, it is that we are all part of a single, interdependent human family, whose flourishing and, indeed, very continued existence will rest upon our ability to rise to a new level in forging positive, cooperative relationships amidst the many differences that make us the multi-faceted community that we are.
Living through the “Troubles” in my native Belfast in Northern Ireland has both impressed upon me the unacceptable costs of destructive conflict and given me hope in the potential of committed individuals and communities to sow seeds of compassion and healing. Bringing our world nearer to the ideal of sustainable peace and well-being for ourselves and our neighbors will require the soul-searching, moral agency, and contributions of each and every one of us. Our present moment is calling upon all of us as global citizens to ask: How am I using the abilities, resources, and privileges I’ve been given to make the world a more humane, just, and harmonious place?
To meet the demands of the twenty-first century, universities such as ours charged with educating present and future leaders must become wisdom-centered and purpose-driven, encouraging our students and the wider communities we serve to ask how they can use their remarkable talents and energies for human flourishing. We must support them in tapping into their most profound sources of inspiration and insight, and make spaces for them to engage deeply with, listen to, and learn from others. We must challenge them to find ever more innovative, culturally relevant, and spiritually and emotionally intelligent ways to transform destructive conflict and apply the highest of their ideals in communities and institutions. And we must encourage their thoughtful exploration and cultivation of the qualities of character and spiritual disciplines that will empower them to be courageous and resilient in pursuing their noble aspirations in the face of complex and often messy realities.
Over millennia, our religious and spiritual traditions have served as central contexts for humanity’s pondering these profound questions. They have generated a vast fund of wisdom and experience about the ways in which we can, as individuals and communities, transcend the negative propensities within and between us, and cultivate lives and relationships of peace and shared well-being, lives and relationships truly worthy of the gift. At a time when world events make ever more urgent our quest for effective and sustainable solutions, we cannot afford to neglect the resources that these traditions can provide for addressing our most pressing local, regional, and global problems.
Through this new initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace, we at Harvard Divinity School are serving as a hub at Harvard University and beyond for cross-disciplinary engagement, scholarship, and practice on these vital and timely questions. Here we are presented with a unique opportunity, given the Divinity School’s extensive resources in theology, ministry, and the study of the world’s religious traditions, the expertise of our outstanding colleagues in an array of fields across the University, and the many gifts of our diverse and talented students hailing from and headed to places all over the globe.
We are convinced that, no matter our specialization, profession, or walk of life, these are questions in which each of us has a stake and on which each of us has much to contribute and much to learn. And we are convinced that, together, we can make a positive difference in our century and for future generations. We invite you to join us.
David N. Hempton
Dean of the Faculty of Divinity
Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies
John Lord O'Brian Professor of Divinity