Message from Dean Hempton

A message from Dean David N. Hempton as Harvard Divinity School enters its third century

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In the twenty-first century, our human family is at a pivotal moment, facing urgent problems of an unprecedented scale—from environmental degradation and weapons of mass destruction to endemic poverty and mass forced migration—that will require an unprecedented level of local, regional, and global cooperation to surmount. Conflict—though inevitable and potentially generative—persists today in destructive, polarizing, and violent forms that take an unacceptable toll on communities around the world and endanger humanity’s very survival, while impeding humanity’s ability to address other critical problems. For too many members of our societies, important aspects of human flourishing remain out of reach. Yet without shared flourishing, any “peace” we achieve is not substantive, nor is it sustainable. Though these challenges have no easy or permanent solutions, we are convinced that much more can be done to make well-being and harmony more widespread and enduring. Our quest to solve our “big problems” and our quest for peace that is substantive, shared, and sustainable are inextricable.

Advances in the humanities, sciences, technology, and professions are rapidly expanding our knowledge and capacities. Religion is—and is expected to remain—central to life and foundational to ethics for the majority of people on the planet. Our cultural traditions are animating and cherished aspects of life and meaning. The hearts, heads, hands, and heritages of us all hold abundant resources for shared flourishing and peace yet to be fully tapped. To benefit from these opportunities, we must bring together our energies and inspiration; the millennia of wisdom in our spiritual, ethical, and cultural traditions; and the expertise and resources of our contemporary disciplines.

Rising to the challenge of bringing about a more humane and harmonious future will require fundamental shifts in the ways we think, relate to one another, and conduct our affairs. This endeavor must involve us all; it is not a task that can be left to a cadre of peacebuilding specialists. Addressing our complex ethical, relational, and structural problems effectively will require proactive, holistic approaches. A crucial step will be to mainstream sustainable peace as a goal of leadership across sectors, through the concerted involvement of fields ranging from business, government, policy, diplomacy, law, education, the humanities and arts, journalism, media, design, sciences and technology, health, and psychology to religion. We must begin to leverage the activities of each of our sectors and communities in innovative ways strategically designed to contribute to sustainable peace. This must become part of our basic modus operandi as individuals, organizations, and communities: We must integrate it into our purposes, research, planning, and operations—just as people across sectors at all levels increasingly have begun to integrate the goal of environmental sustainability into their activities.

This shared endeavor for sustainable peace will demand that we recognize our inescapable interdependence as a human family and our many untapped areas of possibility and opportunity. It will demand that we inquire into the multiple dimensions of humanity’s profound problems, from the spiritual and ethical to the institutional and structural. It will demand that we reflect upon our deeper purposes, higher aspirations, and hopes for our shared future and their implications for our academic, professional, and community affairs. It will demand that we explore our respective visions and practices of peace, well-being, virtue, integrity, justice, dignity, humanity, responsibility, and community. It will demand that we engage in shared learning to cultivate our capacities as transformative leaders guided by wisdom, values, and virtues who serve and lead by “being the change” we wish to see in the world. It will demand that we find constructive ways to tap into the generative potential of difference and disagreement through mutual inquiry. It will demand that we innovate collaboratively across disciplines and communities, informed by knowledge that is theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, traditional and cutting edge. It will demand that we promote activities that are rooted in communities, leverage the power of citizen diplomacy and the business sector, and prioritize meeting basic human needs both tangible and intangible. It will demand that we foster good will across differences with creativity, cultural relevance, and spiritual and emotional intelligence. It will demand that we reach out to build friendships across divides and operationalize an ethic of love, sisterhood, and brotherhood.

Our universities, as crucial institutions of civil society with a key role in training leaders across sectors, can and indeed must make a major contribution to these efforts. Harvard University—with its unparalleled position of intellectual leadership, cross-disciplinary expertise, and global reach; its deep resources in the study of the world’s religions at Harvard Divinity School; and the thriving and expanding One Harvard connections fostered by Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP)—is uniquely positioned to promote these efforts and help advance sustainable peace for present and future generations.

We are convinced that, no matter our specialization, profession, or background, this is an endeavor in which each of us in our human family has a stake and to which each of us has much to contribute—a shared endeavor to which we are called by both our contemporary conditions and the wisdom of our traditions. Together we can leverage our diverse strengths and resources to foster a more humane, harmonious, and equitable world.

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