Building Peace through Religious Understanding

February 9, 2016
Albert and Karen Budney, MDiv '91, made a major gift to support the Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative at HDS. / Photo: Justin Knight
Albert and Karen Budney, MDiv '91, made a major gift to support the Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative at HDS. / Photo: Justin Knight

When Karen Vickers and Albert Budney went with their high school senior class to the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, they were impressed by its theme of "Peace through Understanding"—so much so that 25 years later, after the couple had married, the idea inspired Karen to enter Harvard Divinity School on her way to the Episcopal priesthood.

"I remembered that motto when I entered the ordination process and applied to HDS," she says. "I realized that I wanted to study with, share ideas, and learn from people from a variety of faith traditions, especially since much of the violence in the world begins with and is sustained by religious intolerance."

Another 25 years have come and gone, but the Rev. Karen Vickers Budney, MDiv '91, has lost none of her passion for religious knowledge and its value to peacemakers around the world. This year, she and her husband Albert Budney, MBA '74, made a major gift to HDS for the new initiative on Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP), launched in 2015 by Dean David N. Hempton.

"A glance at the headlines is all one needs to understand both the critical importance of peacebuilding around the world and the need for religious knowledge in order to advance that effort," said Dean Hempton. "Karen and Al's generous gift will enable us to bring together the expertise of HDS and wider Harvard to utilize the wisdom of global faith traditions to counter the forces producing violent conflicts with religious dimensions. These conflicts are not only destructive in themselves, but also diminish human flourishing in so many other ways, from chronic poverty to global health problems. We are deeply grateful for this timely investment in the future of peacebuilding around the world."

Rev. Budney, a member of the HDS Dean's Council, says that Dean Hempton's leadership was a major factor in the couple's decision to make a gift to RPP—and to do so now. She says that the Dean's efforts to put peace at the center of the School's work, combined with his personal history, convinced her and her husband that the initiative was worthy of their support.

"For the last two years, Dean Hempton has brought scholars, diplomats, and policymakers to HDS to discuss peace," she says. "As a native of Northern Ireland who witnessed religiously motivated violence firsthand, the Dean also has a devotion to peace—and a vision for promoting it—that needs to be shared with the Harvard community and the world beyond. We share that vision, and believe that we can best support it through a financial contribution to RPP."

Doctoral candidate and RPP research associate Elizabeth Ruqaiyyah Lee-Hood says that the Budneys' gift will enable a wide range of activities related to education, teaching, and research on religion and the practice of peace.

"The Budneys' generous support will make it possible for us in the years ahead to convene a cross-disciplinary working group of faculty, experts, alumni, and students from across Harvard University and beyond,” she says. “It will help us create opportunities for exchange with top scholar-practitioners and religious peacebuilders from around the world, engage the wider Harvard community and the general public, and collaborate with other Harvard centers to design new RPP-related programming."

 Lee-Hood says that the gift will also provide a crucial boost to RPP's long-term aspirations.

"In the future, we hope to develop courses, catalyze cross-disciplinary research, offer field education and grants to students, and produce both scholarly publications and educational resources that will be useful for everyone from policymakers to communities," she says. "The Budneys' support will help us to find ever more innovative ways to raise global awareness of religious resources for peace."

While the gift to RPP may be new, the Budneys' support of HDS is not. They say that their long relationship with the School stems largely from the continuing value of Rev. Budney's student experience.

"At HDS, I was surrounded by people of many different denominations who shared their faith openly and respectfully," she says. "It prepared me to engage with differences in a peaceful, more understanding manner. Today, I often meet with parishioners and others who are hurting or in some kind of power struggle. I try to provide them with a calm presence, a listening ear, an understanding heart—all ways of being that were reinforced for me at HDS."

Rev. Budney says that the gift to HDS is an opportunity for her and her husband "to be understanding, to bring about change, and to be agents for peace." They look forward to watching RPP grow and expand in the years to come.

"Peace truly does begin by sharing ideas and respecting and understanding one another, one relationship at a time," Rev. Budney says. "Our hope for RPP is that it will continue to bring people of different faith traditions together to share their life stories and to challenge one another to pursue a path of tolerance and forgiveness, which will ultimately lead to a more peaceful world."

—by Paul Massari