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Book Explores Religion at Harvard

By Malka A. Older

Think Harvard is a godless wasteland of secular academia? Think again.

More than 35 Harvard professors and alums have contributed to a new anthology titled Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians.

The book was edited by Kelly K. Monroe, an officer in the United Ministry.

The writers featured in the book include prominent figures such as Agee Professor of Social Ethics Robert Coles '50; Professor of Astronomy and the History of Science Owen J. Gingerich; world-class ice skater Paul Wylie '91; and American Red Cross President Elizabeth H. Dole, an alum of the Law School.

Monroe said, however, that the point of the book is not merely to tell the stories of celebrities.

"It's not sort of the who's who of worldly achievers but real people with real questions and troubles," Monroe said.

She said the purpose of the book was "to gather people from many disciplines, many cultures to talk about their discoveries of truth as well as the unity and the beauty of truth in relation to the gospel."

The works in the anthology are essays and speeches, not intellectual discussions.

"It's not an academic book," Monroe said. "It's personal stories of questions and troubles."

According to Monroe, the stories in the book reflect what she feels was the plan of Harvard's founders.

"The whole heritage of Harvard and the original vision of the college emerges in the lives of these people as we enter the 20th century," Monroe said.

She noted that the original motto of the school was "In Christe Gloriam," or "In Christ, Glory." Later, the "Veritas" seal often included "Christoet Ecclesiae."

"Yet today the 'Christo et Ecclesiae' has been detached from 'Veritas.' 'Veritas' is now unanchored," Monroe said. "I think that in a pluralistic world that is perhaps necessary and understandable but we should at least allow students to explore what the founders had in mind."

Monroe said she felt some aspect was missing from the college experience.

"It seems as if everything else can be talked about except for this one possible truth and that's not liberal education," Monroe said.

While the book includes only Christian authors, Monroe said, "it's a celebration of diversity in a lot of ways."

Monroe said that the starting point for the book was to approach the topic from a Christian point of view, not to do a survey of many religions.

"The book isn't a defense of Christianity," she said. "It's just honest life stories which shed some light on God's search for us."

Monroe said she chose to focus her book on Harvard for many reasons.

"It's always sort of set the pace of cultural orthodoxy and it was the first college called godless," Monroe said. "We had four suicides and a murder last year. We are a college that needs to be honest enough to hear all possibilities about hope and meaning. And maybe in doing that raise the level of dialogue in classrooms at and far beyond Harvard."

The idea behind the book also spawned the Veritas Forum of 1994, which brought many of the writers together in person to discuss some of the issues of the anthology.

The forum will meet again this October for a formal launching of the book.

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