HDS Alumni Discuss Intersection of Ethics, Religion, and Spirituality


A group of Harvard Divinity School alumni in humanitarian aid professions reflected on the impact of their education at HDS and discussed the intersection of ethics, religion, and spirituality at a virtual panel Tuesday.

The discussion included three HDS alumni — interim director of Religion and Inclusive Societies at U.S. Institute of Peace Palwasha L. Kakar, Church World Service President Richard L. “Rick” Santos, and International Bridges to Justice founder Karen I. Tse.

Moderator Susan O. “Susie” Hayward, associate director for the Religious Literacy and the Professions Initiative at HDS, began by acknowledging the importance of the panel, noting the crisis in Ukraine and other locations around the world.

“This is critical for a world that faces current and pending crises, like the current crisis unfolding in Ukraine, which I know is top of our mind and hearts,” Hayward said. “But also those currently unfolding, in Yemen, in Myanmar, in Syria, and those currently unfolding and yet to unfold related to the climate collapse that is causing untold suffering in many places around the world.”


The panelists discussed how HDS improved their understanding of the intricacies of spirituality and religion in the context of humanitarian action. Kakar described learning to better navigate the “messiness and the complexity of religious roles and institutions, both in conflict and peace and politics.”

“It really helped me in the work that I do at the United States Institute of Peace, on doing religious landscape mappings and really developing a methodology where it's not someone from the outside, but voices from the inside telling us what's important about the religious narratives, what's important about institutions,” Kakar said.

When discussing the ethics of resource procurement and decision-making, Santos said many of the issues surrounding funding and resource allocation center around the historical power of European and U.S. countries.

“I think the long-term justice issues have to revolve around who makes decisions, who has the power in that decision-making,” Santos said.

Tse said she believed addressing such questions of justice often deeply involves spirituality, a connection she found during her time at HDS.

While at Harvard, Tse said she realized that “love and justice and spirituality are very married.”

—Staff writer Kenneth Gu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kennygu8.