During its first century, Harvard Divinity School was unofficially associated with American Unitarianism. It also retains a historical tie to one of the successor denominations of American Congregationalism, the United Church of Christ.
Throughout the 18th century, Enlightenment ideas of the power of reason and free will became widespread among Congregationalist ministers, putting those ministers and their congregations in tension with more traditionalist, Calvinist parties.: 1–4
Nevertheless, after much struggle, the Unitarian Henry Ware was elected in 1805, which signaled the changing of the tide from the dominance of traditional, Calvinist ideas at Harvard to the dominance of liberal, Arminian ideas (defined by traditionalists as Unitarian ideas).: 4–5 : 24 The appointment of Ware, with the election of the liberal Samuel Webber to the presidency of Harvard two years later, led Jedidiah Morse and other conservatives to found the Andover Theological Seminary as an orthodox alternative to the Harvard Divinity School.: 4–5
Today, students and faculty come from a variety of religious backgrounds: Christian (all denominations), Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and others. Its academic programs attempt to balance theology and religious studies—that is, the "believer's" perspective on religion with the "secular" perspective on religion. This is in contrast to many other divinity schools where one or the other is given primacy (Yale Divinity School, for example, emphasizes its theological program, while the majority of students at the University of Chicago Divinity School enroll in its "religious studies" Master of Arts program).
Divinity Hall, dedicated in 1826, was the first Harvard building built outside Harvard Yard. It contains classrooms, faculty and staff offices, and Divinity Chapel, also called Emerson Chapel, where Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the Divinity School Address in 1838.
Completed in 1911 at a cost of $300,000, Andover Hall was designed by Allen and Collens, a firm that focused largely on neo-medieval and ecclesiastical designs, and is the only building at Harvard built in the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture.
Andover Hall was commissioned by Andover Theological Seminary, which, by 1906, saw its enrollment slide and entered an affiliation with the Divinity School in 1908. The Hall contained a chapel, library, dorms, and seminar and lecture rooms. Today, the building still contains a chapel and some classrooms, but it also holds many administrative and faculty offices.
On May 1, 2019, the building's name was changed to Swartz Hall in honor of philanthropists Susan Shallcross Swartz and James R. Swartz.
Jewett House, constructed in 1913, is named for its first occupant, James Richard Jewett, a Harvard University professor of Arabic from 1914 to 1933. Jewett’s son had donated the house to Harvard for the use of the Divinity School, but it was instead used by Harvard University Press. In 1956, the house was renovated to serve as the home of the Harvard Divinity School's dean.
The Carriage House of Jewett House is now the home for the Women’s Studies in Religion Program. In the past, it served as a home or office for a series of Divinity School faculty and staff, including the family of Brita and former dean Krister Stendahl, who lived in the Carriage House in the 1960s.
Previously housed in Andover Hall, the library moved into its own two-story granite building, designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott in 1960. In September 2001, the library completed an $11.5-million renovation that added two stories, enhanced its technology facilities and study areas, and improved its information systems.
Center for the Study of World Religions building
Constructed in 1960, the Center for the Study of World Religions building was designed by the Catalonian architect Josep Lluis Sert, then dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, for what was his first Harvard commission. 
Rockefeller Hall, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1970, featured seminar rooms and a refectory on the ground floor and student housing above. A 2008 renovation by VSBA/Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. transformed the upper floors into staff offices, modernized access and created the fourth LEED Gold building at Harvard.
In April 2014, the faculty of HDS voted to suspend admission to its Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program, although students already enrolled in the Th.D. program were allowed to complete their degrees. Instead, doctoral students pursue Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees under the auspices of the Committee on the Study of Religion, which is made up of 50% Arts and Sciences and 50% Divinity faculty members and housed in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. While many Ph.D. students in the GSAS take courses at HDS, and both HDS and FAS characterize the Ph.D. as a joint program, Ph.D. students are formally enrolled in the GSAS and not HDS; only the GSAS at Harvard may award the Ph.D.
Candidates for the M.Div. are required to take at least 12 courses in scriptural interpretation and histories, theologies, and practices. Those 12 courses must include:
Three courses in the theories, methods, and practices of scriptural interpretation
Six courses in the histories, theologies, and practices of religious traditions
No more than nine courses in the same religious tradition, or listed in no religious tradition(s)
At least six courses addressing one or more religious tradition(s); of those six, only three may be in the same tradition
Harvard Divinity School Library (previously Andover-Harvard Theological Library)
Harvard Divinity School Library
Library support for the study of religion at Harvard predates the establishment of the Divinity School; almost three-fourths of the 400 volumes that John Harvard gave to Harvard College in 1638 were theological in nature. Books on religion made up a third to a half of the college’s holdings until the Divinity School was established in 1816 and duplicates from the College Library were combined with new purchases to form the beginnings of a specialized library for the school. In 1911, Harvard Divinity School and Andover Theological Seminary formed a partnership and agreed to house their collections together in a common library; when the educational partnership of the schools was dissolved in 1926, Andover Seminary's deposits remained in the library under the terms of a continuing agreement. The library's name changed from "Andover-Harvard Theological Library" to "Harvard Divinity School Library" in 2021.
The library’s collections include all religious traditions in order to support the many approaches to the study of religion at Harvard Divinity School. Its historical collection strengths include Protestant Christianity, Unitarian Universalism, and biblical studies. Additional areas of collecting emphasis since the second half of the twentieth century include women’s studies in religion, the relation of religion to ethnicity and to LGBTQ studies, the ecumenical movement, interreligious communication, and religion and peace-making. Similarly, the rare book collection has strengths in early Protestant Christianity, Unitarian Universalism and related “nonconforming” traditions, and biblical studies. Notable special collections include the papers of Unitarian preacher and theologian William Ellery Channing, theologians Paul Tillich and H. Richard Niebuhr, and New Testament scholar Caspar René Gregory.
Harvard Divinity School Library is part of Harvard Library, whose resources are available to all faculty, staff, and students at HDS. Harvard Library's collection has over six million digitized items, 20 million print volumes, 400 million manuscripts, one million maps, tens of millions of digital images, and rare and special collections. Harvard Library collects collaboratively with peer institutions and facilitates international open access, multiplying researchers’ access to materials.
Founded in 1960 after an anonymous donation in 1957, the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School is a residential community of academic fellows, graduate students, and visiting professors of many world religious traditions. The Center focuses on the understanding of religions globally through its research, publications, funding, and public programs. It welcomes scholars and practitioners and highlights the intellectual and historical dimensions of religious dialogue.
The Center sponsors a diverse range of educative programs, ranging from public lectures to colloquia and reading groups, student-initiated projects, and "religion in the news" lunches on topics of public interest. The center's meditation room is open to all members of the Harvard community.
Directors of the CSWR have included Robert H. L. Slater (1958-64), Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1954-73), John B. Carman (1973-89), Lawrence E. Sullivan (1990-2003), Donald K. Swearer (2004-10), and Francis X. Clooney (2010-17). As of July 1, 2017[update], its director is Charles Stang, a scholar of ancient Christianity, focusing especially on Eastern varieties of late antique Christianity.
The Women's Studies in Religion Program (WSRP) at Harvard Divinity School was founded in 1973 as a response to student requests to include women's perspectives in the sources, methods, and subject matter of the HDS curriculum. The program brings five postdoctoral scholars to HDS as visiting faculty each year. Each research associate works on a book-length research project related to religion and gender and teaches a course related to their research. Since its founding, the program has supported more than 200 scholars from institutions of higher learning in the United States and around the world.
Directors of the Women's Studies in Religion Program include Brinton Lykes (1973-77), Constance Buchanan (1977-97), and Ann D. Braude (1998-present).
The Program in Religion and Secondary Education (PRSE) was a teacher education program that prepared students to teach about religion in public schools from a non-sectarian perspective. It began in 1972 as a two-year pilot project known as the "Secondary School Teaching Certificate Option," and by 1983, it had evolved into a collaboration between Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Students in the master of theological studies or master of divinity degree programs integrated their work in religion with courses on education and public policy to understand the relationship between religion and education and to advance religious literacy within their fields of licensure. The program stopped admitting new students in the 2009–10 academic year, although students who were already in the PRSE were able to finish their degrees in normal fashion.
The Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) was a two-week training program that sought to establish theological instruction and grounding for individuals engaged in community and economic development. It was offered by Harvard Divinity School from 1998 to 2008.
The program of study was divided into four modules: Theology, Ethics, and Public Policy; Organizational Development and Management; Housing and Community Development; and Finance and Economic Development. Participants also developed individual plans of action, on a case-study model, applicable to the local work in their communities. It was a full-time residential program, holding classes five days a week, with an emphasis on faith-based case studies of corporations and communities.
More than 450 participants completed the program. About 50 people were selected each year from around the United States and internationally to participate in lectures, seminars, and field visits with faculty from across Harvard and other recognized experts.
Frederick Buechner, American theologian and author. Buechner's Harvard sermons, delivered at the Noble Lecture series in 1969, were published in 1970 under the title The Alphabet of Grace. He also spent time lecturing on homiletics at the school.
Charles G. Adams, Pastor, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church; Former President, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.; William and Lucille Nickerson Professor of the Practice of Ethics and Ministry, Harvard Divinity School.
Harvard Divinity Bulletin is a glossy magazine published by Harvard Divinity School two times per calendar year. The magazine features nonfiction essays, opinion pieces, poetry, and reviews about religion and its relationship with contemporary life, art, and culture. The magazine often publishes the text of each year's Ingersoll Lecture on Human Immortality. It is mailed to a subscriber base of approximately 10,000. The magazine is sent free to Harvard Divinity School students, faculty, alumni, staff, and supporters; others are asked to subscribe. Past contributors have included Reza Aslan, Martine Batchelor, Sarah Sentilles, and Christian Wiman.
Founded in 1908, Harvard Theological Review is a quarterly journal that publishes original research in many scholarly and religious fields, including ethics, archeology, Christianity, Jewish studies, and comparative religious studies.
The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School
Founded in 2006 as Cult/ure, The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School is the print/online, student-run academic journal of Harvard Divinity School and the only graduate journal of religion at Harvard University. It publishes exemplary student scholarship in the areas of religious studies, ministry studies, and theology every year.
HD Today was an alumni magazine published three times per year by the HDS Office of Communications. It included original news articles, event listings, an alumni journal, and class notes. It ceased publication in spring 2012.
The Nave was a newsletter of HDS student activities and events published from 1975 to 2007 by the HDS Office of Student Life. The newsletter transitioned from paper to online in 2002.The Nave included announcements of lectures, social events, important academic deadlines, and other matters.
The Wick was a student-run journal for literary and creative works by the HDS community. The Wick published both published and unpublished writers of fiction, poetry, essays, photography, sermons, and creative non-fiction. It was last listed as a Harvard Divinity School student organization in the 2014-15 academic year.
^John B. Carman; Kathryn Dodgson (2006). Community and Colloquy: The Center for the Study of World Religions 1958-2003. Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School. ISBN0-945454-42-2.
^"History". Center for the Study of World Religions. Archived from the original on 19 July 2021. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
^"Brinton Lykes". Psychology's Feminist Voices. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021. After completing her M.Div. degree, Lykes helped to start a program in women's studies at Harvard Divinity School and ran the program as co-coordinator for three years.
^"Summer Leadership Institute". Harvard Divinity School. Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Charles Adams, the William and Lucille Nickerson Professor of the Practice of Ministry at HDS—who has directed the SLI jointly with Preston Williams since 2008—will assume the SLI leadership in July 2009.