What's New

June 2013. 

This has been a wonderful semester at Harvard and at Lowell House. It began in January with the interdisciplinary research project on the Kumbh Mela that I organized with Rahul Mehrotra at the Graduate School of Design. In the fall that brought together religion students and design/urban studies students in a seminar to prepare for this great pilgrimage in India. The Kumbh Mela is an every-twelve-years event that takes place at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers, where they join with the spiritual Sarasvati River on the plains of north India in today's Allahabad. Of course, my interest was in the pilgrimage itself, a huge 50 day encampment of gurus, ascetics, and pilgrims, swelling to some 20 million or more on the several "big bathing days." It is one of India's great pilgrimages. For Rahul, this was an opportunity to study what he describes as "temporal urbanism," and the structure of a tent city, a "pop-up megacity," is a challenge. We called the project "Mapping the Kumbh Mela," and by the time we left in January, we had about 30 researchers and the serious interest of Harvard's Business School and the School of Public Health, as well as Design and Arts and Sciences. You can read about some of our work on the South Asia Institute website. We were grateful for the support of the Provost and the President of Harvard in shaping this project and enabling students to spend January in India. There is still much to do and we will have a continuing workshop in the fall.

The Pluralism Project completed our pilot project "America's Interfaith Infrastructure," looking at twenty cities in the U.S. and the emerging networks and initiatives that bridge faith and culture divides. The interactive website has Google maps, community portraits, case-studies, and promising practices in this cities-based research. With the support of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, we have been able to launch new research on a phenomenon that is critically under-studied in the U.S., and in the world for that matter.  We are also about to launch the online version of our prize-winning CDRom, "On Common Ground: World Religions in America," with the generous support of the Lilly Endowment, which supported our fledgling Pluralism Project research some twenty years ago.

Commencement on May 30, both in the University and here at Lowell House, brought both the excitement of a great academic festival and the poignancy of farewells to a beloved class of seniors, the class of 2013. 

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