Editors' Introduction

This issue of The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School (formerly Cult/ure) marks a distinct departure from the journal’s past incarnations. Now entering its tenth year of publication, the journal has offered a consistent, thoughtful forum for the academic explorations of the graduate community at HDS and beyond. With this current issue, the journal takes on a new form, one that remains dedicated to the celebration of student research, but also committed to reflecting on the academic environment in which that research takes place. The journal now bears a new name reflecting its new aims. As the editors of this reshaped publication, our hope is not only to feature the scholarly achievements of the graduate community in religious studies and theology, but also to enable that community to examine and reflect on its own journey through the university.

Here, we offer a set of essays and interviews that foreground graduate work in two senses. You will find academic essays, representative of current trends in the study of religion and a sampling of the most insightful graduate work in today’s academy. But you will also find pieces that interrogate not only the work we produce, but the work we act out daily: the work of living, studying, teaching, and building careers in the university. These selections speak to the interests we share as students of religion and to the professional challenges we face as aspiring professors, teachers, activists, or writers. They provide perspectives on the difficulties and joys of academic life, as well as a set of tools for addressing challenges to come.

With this shift in format and mission have come numerous logistical shifts that have radically reshaped the look and feel of the journal, and, though in large part invisible, have consumed much of the energy that went into this year’s issue. Most obvious, of course, is the change in name. But this shift reflects a much larger restructuring of the editorial process. All academic submissions now undergo a two-part peer-review, first by our student editorial board and then by a set of anonymous faculty reviewers. We have worked to increase the rigor of the journal’s scholarship, and have, with the invaluable assistance of our fellow editors, applied to the journal a new level of editorial care.

Along with this organizational shift comes a new material form for the journal. After several years of online-only publication, the journal now returns to print. And with this new, corporeal presence comes a new virtual one, too: with an updated and redesigned website, the publication is now easily accessible and distributable in multiple formats. 

The journal is still evolving and there is much work to be done in the coming years. Here we offer what we see as a strong foundation for the journal’s continued growth, and we hope not only for the product to be a resource for our community, but for the process to be one as well. The work of editing, organizing, and writing for the journal is an opportunity for students to develop some of the most crucial skills for a life in academia (and in many other areas as well). With a strong new presence at HDS, the journal can be an integral part of students’ growth into scholars.

This issue begins with three academic essays. First, Cody Musselman (Yale) examines the rival conceptions of civil religion and Christian faith at the Gettysburg Battlefield. Her ethnographic work reveals contestations of America’s civil religion and questions the relationship of this country’s Christian pasts with its ever-shifting present. It pushes us to return to memories of conflict, nation, and God in order to understand contemporary religious tensions.

Next, Kathryn Dickason (Stanford) compares medieval Christian conversations on seals and scars. Her writing connects two disparate types of faith and practice, with considerable implications for our understanding of medieval religious worlds. The body, signification, the fragile link between creation and God—all meet in her consideration of image and skin.

Finally, Matthias Giles (HDS) weaves together Augustine’s diverse body of work to distill a coherent—and often ignored—doctrine of the human soul. He places Augustine’s writings in conversation with the religious debates of late antiquity, using this careful juxtaposition to illuminate Augustine’s own arguments and innovations. The result is a vision of the soul that unites humanity before God.

Following the academic features, the issue includes a set of essays and interviews that address concerns of scholarly research and academic professionalization. First, Khytie Brown (Harvard) reviews Paul Christopher Johnson’s edited volume on conceptions of spirit possession in the study of Afro-Atlantic religions. She provides a crucial snapshot of the intersections of religion, racialization, and colonialism. 

Then, Kera Street (Harvard) looks into the relation of academic work to living communities. The connection is one that sustains her own scholarly work, and that keeps it grounded in ethical and practical issues central to the place of religion in public and communal life. 

Next are two interviews with current doctoral students. Lucia Hulsether (Yale) spoke with the journal about her own work and about the divisions—real or imagined—between the academy and the public, and her own practices for enduring, and enjoying, the stresses of university life. Helen Kim (Harvard) likewise details her own work on transnational evangelicalism, before discussing her own academic path. For her, academic labor is at once intellectual, physical, and spiritual work—especially when writing on the recent past, on little-known topics, or on contemporary politics.

Finally, the journal spoke with Michelle Sanchez, assistant professor of theology at HDS. We touched on her time as both student and faculty at Harvard, as well as the ways she connects her own scholarship to established fields, new conversations, and personal experience. These same connections in turn play critical roles in her own goals as a writer, a scholar, and—perhaps most importantly—a teacher.

The issue before you represents a specific vision of academia and of academic work. As potential scholars, we believe in the need to provide graduate students spaces to test ideas, to make arguments, and to push their intellectual boundaries. But as students, we also know that the university demands a certain type of conduct and strategy. This journal, in its new form, ministers to both these needs. It promotes student work, relies on student input, and facilitates student reflection, critique, and growth. So while the journal certainly embodies an academic standard we hope places it alongside other scholarly publications, we also see it as something more than that. It is a set of tools for future projects, a collection of questions at once theoretical and practical. It notes the many paths that traverse the university, and is a companion to those who travel them.

—Lewis West and Will Morningstar