HDS Faculty Remember Nelson Mandela

Mandela at a special convocation at Harvard, September 18, 1998. Photo: Rose Lincoln

On the day of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, members of the Faculty of Divinity shared their thoughts on the man, his life, and his legacy.

David N. Hempton
Dean of the Faculty of Divinity

Nelson Mandela came out of prison without obvious bitterness and anger, but rather with discipline, purpose, and grace. He modeled how ethical and moral values, properly applied, can transform political landscapes afflicted with the most enduring and intractable problems. What worked effectively in South Africa then had global salience because Mandela appealed to our very best instincts. 

Emily Click
Assistant Dean for Ministry Studies and Field Education, Lecturer on Ministry

Nelson Mandela's life carried a meaning and message that transcends his compelling context. His dignified leadership before, during, and after his life in prison reminds us of the power of love. Love transcends and transforms bitterness. We pause today to remember his embodiment of forgiving grace. 

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.
Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions

Great figures in history are universal, telling all of us something about ourselves, whoever we are. Yet each is great in her or his own way, in particular conditions.

In 1999, writing for Time magazine, Mandela reflected on Mohandas Gandhi's lifelong struggle to make nonviolence—the grasping of truth, satyagraha—a force for bringing freedom and justice to his people. Mandela knew that he was not Gandhi. He was compelled to find his own path to the freedom and dignity of his own people, a generation later, under different conditions, different pressures. He had to balance peace and force, cooperation and refusal, in his own way, making his own mistakes. It is part of the genius and gift of Mandela that Gandhi inspired him—not to be Gandhi, but to be the Mandela that the world of the late twentieth century desperately needed.

Stephanie Paulsell
Houghton Professor of the Practice of Ministry Studies

I remember very clearly the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, hand in hand with his wife, Winnie. It was a Sunday. I watched his release on television early in the morning before going to the church where I worked. He had been in prison my entire lifetime. Watching him walk through the cheering crowd was to see living proof that the world can be changed by human struggle, sacrifice, and commitment. His legacy is vast, but at its heart is the way he answered the age-old question of how to live: with his entire life bent toward freedom, not only for himself, but for everyone else.

Harvey G. Cox, Jr.
Hollis Research Professor of Divinity

As we mourn and celebrate Nelson Mandela, let us not forget two things many would like to ignore. First, when both houses of Congress passed bills for sanctions against South Africa to end apartheid, President Ronald Reagan vetoed them. Then, both houses of Congress overrode his veto. Second, the American CIA, supported by our tax dollars, assisted the apartheid regime to track down Mandela. After he was arrested, he spent 27 years in prison.

Anne E. Monius
Professor of South Asian Religions, Acting Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions

Nelson Mandela's personal conviction—that any person's freedom is diminished by the suffering of another—led him to demonstrate to the world that reconciliation and collaboration can be effective national policies. His work, as well as that of Bishop Desmond Tutu, has figured quite heavily in previous iterations of my Gen. Ed. course on comparative religious ethics.

Ousmane Kane
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society

Among the great leaders who devoted their life to promote justice and freedom for all human beings, Mandela occupies a special place. He will be remembered forever in Africa and beyond.