About the CSWR

The mission of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School is:

  • To deepen understanding of the world's religious traditions and communities, and to share such understanding both within the academic world and beyond
  • To further scholarly understanding of the complex roles that religion plays in the world's cultures, economies, and political structures, both in the contemporary world and in history
  • To explore creatively and constructively new models of interreligious encounter and active engagement that speak directly to the political, economic, and social challenges of the current century
  • To foster scholarly collaboration among the disciplines where religion is taken as a serious object of study, and to model new modes of productive interdisciplinary work, both at Harvard and beyond
  • To build deeper and broader understandings of the histories and contemporary patterns of the world's religious communities by hosting scholars and practitioners at the CSWR as residents and program participants.

The study of the world's major religious and spiritual traditions at Harvard, especially at the Divinity School, has been guided by the CSWR since it opened its doors in the fall of 1960, funded initially by a group of anonymous donors in 1957. Over 600 graduate students, CSWR fellows, and visiting professors representing the world's major religious traditions have been affiliated with the Center, many of them as residents. 

The goals set forth in the first of several gifts—the appointment of a professor of world religions, the creation of graduate and undergraduate programs in the study of religion, the support of research and publications, fellowships for study and travel, and communication among peoples of different faiths—have been realized far beyond the expectations of the donors.

The CSWR has particular interest in the historical and contemporary interrelationships among religions, and the theological, philosophical, comparative, political, and ethical challenges facing religious communities and those who study them today. It primarily engages the academic community, beginning with the faculty, students, and staff of HDS, and then the wider scholarly community, but also welcomes religious practitioners, policymakers, and the wider public that is interested in religion. CSWR director Francis X. Clooney reaffirmed the mission of the CSWR in light of today's HDS and University, in his October 20, 2010, lecture.

The CSWR itself is not a curricular department. Faculty associated with the Center include HDS faculty and those teaching in other departments of the University. Recent appointments in world religions at the Divinity School have greatly enlarged the faculty who specialize in the religions of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, while traditional HDS strengths in Judaism and Christianity are now similarly relevant to the work of the CSWR. Over the years the Center has also created a wide network of affiliations through its links with the Divinity School, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard's professional Schools, and institutes and universities in the United States and abroad. The Center occasionally brings an international visiting scholar to the Divinity School to co-teach and conduct research with a member of the faculty.

The CSWR sponsors a rich fare of educative programs, in the past often centered on a yearly programming theme. This year, however, the emphasis is rather on fostering ongoing conversations involving faculty, students, and staff of the Divinity School and Committee on the Study of Religion, and our wider set of colleagues around the University. Please email us for more information about these programs.

Through its faculty grants program, the CSWR supports a broad range of research by Harvard religion faculty. It similarly seeks to support student initiatives in keeping with the Center's mission, in particular offering the Greeley International Internship, which sponsors one HDS student to intern with organizations outside the United States that are dedicated to the promotion of interreligious understanding, peace, and social justice.

The CSWR's resident community is comprised of students and visiting scholars. Though small, it is an important component of the Center's identity, and the energies of residents constitute a key resource in fulfilling the Center's mission. Each winter, applications are accepted for housing for the following academic year; short-term summer residence is often also possible.