2013 Symposium

Symposium on Urbanism, Spirituality & Well-being

Exploring the Past and Present/Envisioning the Future


April 11th: 5:15-6:45pm, Science Center Lecture Hall E, Harvard University  free and open to the public

May 2nd: 5:15-6:45pm, Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall, Harvard University  free and open to the public


June 6-7 th: Glastonbury Abbey (Hingham, MA)

June 8th: 9am – 5pm, Harvard University Divinity School 


Please register for the events on June 6-8th here



Given the sobering pressures of growing population density, climate change, resource depletion and fiscal insolvency which attend the modern City, theologians, public health experts, architects and urban planners must synthesize their knowledge of historical and present-day contexts to envision a spiritually and ecologically sustainable future. The Symposium on Urbanism, Spirituality & Well-being will focus on the potential of the City, including landscaped or wild natural areas, to contextualize our shared “human condition” as well as provide a connection to a transcendent dimension of existence through architecture and the urban setting. The collective momentum from this conversation is intended to seed a lasting initiative on Urbanism, Spirituality and Well-being; we welcome the contributions of scholars, students and practitioners as we work to align and illuminate our vision for past, present and future urbanisms.

The Symposium will convene participants from the fields of design (architecture, landscape design, urban planning), religious studies, public health and other related disciplines to address the ways in which the social and physical plan of cities – including parks and recreation areas – can support collective and individual well-being. In this case, we define well-being via an examination of the ways in which built and natural environments can support a vibrant spiritual life and psychosomatic health in urban residents. This can include, for instance, a discussion of how structures for worship and reflection can support sustainability through their design (choice of materials, use of restorative natural features on their grounds, social inclusivity). Key indices of well-being can range from the resources an individual has at their disposal to manage stress (strength of faith, community, ability to identify restorative spaces within the city) to physical indicators of health including acute and chronic disease states. Finally, the term “ecosystem services” will be broadened to include the potential of natural environments to support spiritual well-being.

The Symposium will convene three separate times; to facilitate a more manageable discussion of this broad topic, each meeting will address one of three timeframes (past, present or future). On April 11th, we will present scholarship on the history of cities and architecture designed according to spiritual motivations or principles from 5:15-6:45pm at Harvard University. On May 2nd, we will meet from 5:15-6:45pm to address contemporary trends in urban planning that support the spiritual and ecological well-being of residents. The Symposium will close with an exciting program beginning with a welcome keynote lecture and reception on June 6thfollowed by the presentation of scholarly papers on June 7that Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA. Lectures and Panel discussions will follow on June 8that Harvard Divinity School on the potential for cities to support a meaningful life for residents which, in this setting, we define as one that includes spiritually inspiring built environments which integrate respect for nature as a core value. Speakers are encouraged to bring examples of current projects and cities but speculation is also welcome.


Session Themes


1. Historical Precedents

April 11th, 5:15-6:45pm Science Center Lecture Hall E, Harvard University
Speakers: Nader Ardalan (GSD), Professor Ahmed Ragab (HDS), Professor David Carrasco (HDS)

Scholarship on the history of cities planned according to spiritual motivations or principles. Cities in which ecological sustainability and spiritual well-being have enjoyed historical or ongoing reciprocity are of greatest interest.


2. Contemporary Trends

May 2nd, 5:15-6:45pm Science Center Lecture Hall A, Harvard University

Speakers: Prof. Rahul Mehrotra (GSD), Prof. Dick Jackson (UCLA)

Scholarship on the contribution of spiritual motivations in planning contemporary cities and, specifically, the use of design to support spiritual engagement and environmental health in the public realm.


3. Future Urbanisms

June 8th, 9am - 5pm, Harvard University Divinity School

Morning Session: Prof. Tim Beatley (UVA), Alan Logan, Julio Bermudez (Catholic University)

Panel Discussion- Moderator, 3 Speakers and Audience Q & A.

Afternoon Session: (World Evangelical Alliance Representative); Prof. Tom Barrie (NCSU), Nader Ardalan (GSD)

Closing remarks: Prof. Harvey Cox (HDS)

Scholarship on the future of the City, with particular emphasis on the creation of meaningful, sustainable, and spiritually inspiring urban environments that support environmental health and well-being.


The Symposium is supported by the Science, Religion and Culture Program at Harvard Divinity School; the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health; the Harvard University Center for the Environment