Faculty, Alumni Celebrate 40 Years of Comparative Religion

Alumni who studied Comparative Religion as undergraduates returned to celebrate the 40th year of the concentration this weekend. Festivities included receptions and a series of roundtable discussions that focused on careers and professional life.

The two-day celebration was designed to show undergraduates how the study of religion opened doors to careers in a wide range of industries, such as law, politics, the arts, and academia, according to professor of Comparative Religion Diana L. Eck, who also serves as the co-master of Lowell House. It included a series of roundtable discussions with faculty members and alumni.

“I think this will be a great affirmation of the Humanities in a time when there is so much dispirited whining about the Humanities under siege,” wrote in an email.

Alumni said that they believed that the study of religion had greatly impacted the way they view the world.

“[The study of Comparative Religion] is like a cosmology, in a sense. It is a whole drama set of good and evil, of right and wrong, and of power,” said Eugenie S. Dieck ’77. “If you can understand how someone thinks about those things and respect that, you can have a really meaningful relationship with them.”


Dieck, now a consultant, said that the skills she gained as a comparative religion concentrator have been very useful in both her personal and professional life.

Before the concentration’s inception 40 years ago, students had to propose the study of religion as a special concentration, leaving undergraduates without a formal avenue to learn about the field. Though the cap of ten concentrators has been eliminated, the concentration remains small and tight-knit, according to Eck.

Alumni praised the intimate environment that the concentration fostered.

“It was a comfortable and caring place, in a place that did not have a lot of comfortable and caring places,” said Erik Berg ’89, as he reflected about his experience as an undergraduate.

In this intimate setting, alumni said, undergraduate, graduate, and Divinity School students can freely exchange ideas.

“People say the problem with Harvard is you get taught by graduate students, well Diana Eck was a graduate student when I first had a class with her,” Andrew McCord ’79 said.

—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jillsteinman.


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