UPDATED: April 7, 2014, at 1:24 a.m.
Harvard Divinity School buzzed with discussion and excitement Friday as dozens of alumni and affiliates flocked to Cambridge to celebrate the launch of the school’s capital campaign, which aims to raise $50 million and is part of the University-wide fundraising drive that began last September.
The $50 million target of the Divinity School, which is Harvard’s second smallest school, represents less than 1 percent of the University’s $6.5 billion fundraising goal, the most ambitious in Harvard’s history. It is also only a $5 million increase from the school’s goal during the last University capital campaign, which ran from 1994-1999.
According to the Divinity School’s campaign website, its goals include promoting the study of global religion through the establishment of at least five new professorships in international religious fields and a dean’s fund fueling for new cross-disciplinary collaborations, field education, and other initiatives. The campaign also aims to fund the renovation of Andover Hall, as well as bolster financial aid.
After a Tibetan prayer bowl ringed in the day’s events, a group of professors, doctors, humanitarians, and administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust and Pusey Minister Jonathan L. Walton, gathered to discuss the role that the Divinity School plays in the University and the world at large.
“Harvard’s history has always been linked with religion, mostly for good, sometimes for ill,” said Divinity School Dean David. N. Hempton, adding that “the Divinity School has been extraordinarily influential in shaping discussion about religion, heritage, and culture.”
In his remarks, Hempton said that although transcendental questions are often ignored, the world needs leaders who can think deeply about larger questions of human existence. Harvard’s goal of providing a liberal arts education calls for an institution like the Divinity School, he said.
“The study of the humanities is inadequate without an understanding of lived religion,” Hempton said.
Susan S. Swartz, a campaign co-chair and humanitarian who, with her husband, gave a $10 million gift to the school last year, said that the world needs the Divinity School. Divinity School graduate Thomas M. Chappell will serve as campaign co-chair, while Business School alumnus John L. Whitehead will be the honorary campaign chair.
After a series of discussions and panels that featured various Divinity School graduates from a range of career fields, attendees headed to Northwest Labs for the second portion of the event. Though the rain outside dampened many, a guided arrangement of Chinese lanterns and Divinity School trumpeters welcomed attendees to a reception.
At the reception, Walton spoke about the growing importance of the Divinity School and the continuing support that Faust has shown for the school. At one point, he joked that an appropriate nickname for Faust could be “Divinity Drew,” because of what he called her deep understanding of the importance of the school.
Faust said that since the founding of Harvard in 1636, members of the community have always shared in a spirit of free inquiry about humanity and the nature of meaning.
“Harvard began not as a Divinity School, but a school mindful of divinity,” she said.
Despite its size, Faust said that the Divinity School still has a dramatic impact on Harvard.
“Veritas is not value neutral…. We need the Divinity School, and the extraordinary community it makes,” Faust said.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.