My renewed scholarly interest in the issue of the public significance of theological discourse corresponded with my move to the deanship of Harvard Divinity School in 1986. Faced with the task of the renewal of one of America’s premier theological schools, I sought a way in which my scholarly project could be integrated with my primary administrative responsibilities. I did not seek the Harvard position; indeed, I feared that my own research program, which was only now emerging with genuine clarity, might be obliterated if I took such a position. But Derek Bok, then Harvard’s president, was both persuasive and generous, and assured me that I could take a full semester leave from the deanship sometime during the first five years of my tenure. That leave, combined with judicious use of my summers, made it possible for me to engage in the research that yielded my most recent book-length publication Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy.
If asked to define myself vocationally, I would say I am a teacher and a theologian. But for the past fourteen years (one year each as acting provost and acting president of Haverford College and twelve years as dean at Harvard), my primary professional responsibilities have been administrative. I have sought at every turn to relate my administrative work to my primary vocation as teacher and scholar. Thus if I am forced to acknowledge explicitly the primacy of my administrative role I would characterize myself as a scholar-administrator. At a time when a new managerial class is dominating leadership in higher education, it is important to lift up the older model of the scholar-administrator so as to encourage other teachers to devote a portion of their professional lives to these important tasks.
My administrative work at Harvard has been remarkably fulfilling. Though I am the son of working class parents, I have been given none of the skills of those who work primarily with their hands. Thus I had assumed that I would never experience the joy of making, creating, or shaping material objects. With my acceptance of the Harvard deanship, however, I have been given the opportunity to help shape a major academic institution, thereby making it possible for me to share in part the experiences of the familial generations that preceded me.
The demands of a modem institution are so complex that it is difficult at times to think of a Harvard deanship as a pastorate. I am grateful that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America acknowledges my current position as my call to ministry, and I do seek to be the pastor of this diverse and sprawling community. In my time at Harvard Divinity School, I have participated in twenty new senior appointments to the faculty. I have helped raise more than $50 million for the divinity school during Harvard’s current capital campaign.
But the new initiative closest to my heart has been the establishment of the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, an institution which I serve as director. The CSVPL is a teaching and research center for collaborative interdisciplinary research on the values that underlie public discourse and public policies. The center sponsors programs in three interlocking arm of study Civil Society and the Renewal of Democracy, Religion and International Affairs, and Religion, Values, and the Environment. We have recently launched a new Institute for Values-Centered Leadership, a study program for CEOs and other business managers to explore the religious and spiritual values that undergird effective leadership. In 1999 our interdisciplinary faculty seminar on Civil Society and the Renewal of Democracy will publish a volume entitled Who Provides? Religion Civil Society, and the End of Welfare. The center’s establishment has allowed me to integrate my teaching, research, and administrative roles and should provide sufficient challenge and inspiration to keep me busy at Harvard even as my deanship ends.
My religious and intellectual journey has opened opportunities I would have found unimaginable just twenty years ago. And yet as I have reflected upon the course of my life, I have been struck by the number of common themes that emerge in the telling of this story. The continuing influence of parents, church, and school-and particularly of my Lutheran heritage—is striking, even to me. As I look toward those unwritten chapters of my life, I hope that I can continue to be faithful to those who have helped to shape my theological autobiography, even as I seek new opportunities to grow. If faith is both a habit of the heart and of the mind, then I can think of no better motto for my life’s work than the Anselmian credo, “fides quaerens intellectum,”faith seeking understanding.