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A Future of Religion, Peace and Pluralism — via Harvard


Shannon Boley ’17 has a new prized possession — a Harvard Divinity School baseball cap, acquired after she was accepted into the school’s master’s of theological studies program. She’s working to devise her own concentration in religion, peace and pluralism within that program.

At Hamilton, Boley majored in religious studies, and she wanted to find a graduate program that would enable her to continue in that field but would not require her to focus on a single religious tradition. Boley’s interest is peace and conflict between religious groups, and religion and refugee resettlement. She found, however, that other graduate programs in religious students required a single focus. And peace and conflict grad programs wanted years of work experience.

about Shannon Boley '17

Major: Religious Studies

Grad School: Harvard Divinity

High School: Westfield (Mass.) High

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Harvard Divinity wasn’t on her radar until she had a conversation with a contact from Harvard’s Pluralism Project, where Boley had interned one summer. The contact explained that Harvard’s theological studies program could be shaped to fit Boley’s interests.

“I chose Harvard because other divinity schools often had a Christian focus and didn't have students of non-Christian backgrounds,” Boley says.

Boley credits Brent Rodriguez-Plate, Hamilton visiting associate professor of religious studies, with connecting her with the Pluralism Project in the first place and with setting her on her academic path. For most of her time at Hamilton Boley worked on research projects with Rodriquez-Plate.

She had other help from the Hill. College Chaplain Jeffrey McArn, her friend and a Harvard Divinity grad, wrote her a recommendation for the graduate program.

“He pushed me because I was unsure, I didn’t think I could get in. He said, ‘I really believe in you.’ That was really cool to have that kind of support,” Boley says. Assistant professors of religious studies Abhishek Amar and Seth Schermerhorn were instrumental for her, too.

In the long term, Boley intends to earn a doctorate and become a professor. First she may work for a few years at an NGO, seek a fellowship or find a way to do ethnographic research. She wants to be a professor whose abilities include real-life conflict resolution skills.

“I want to know theory so I can go out and not be fumbling, but I also want to make sure before I lecture people on theory that I have plenty of real-world experience,” Boley explains.

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