Susan Asbrook Harvey '75, Doctor of Humane Letters

June 01, 2007

Susan Asbrook Harvey '75 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Grinnell College Commencement 2007.

What does it mean to be a Christian? How should issues of religion influence society, the family, issues of poverty and wealth, and in particular, the lives and roles of women?

Through her work as a scholar, Susan Ashbrook Harvey has helped us understand ancient Christianity, and what it has to teach us today. She came from a family where religion was very much integrated into the routines of daily living. Her father, an uncle, and both grandfathers were all Baptist ministers. The Christianity she grew up with was a belief that reached out into the larger world — inspiring her to join her family as they marched in picket lines for civil rights, and protested against war and injustice. Her family's religion required a deep engagement with the moral issues of the world.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey earned a degree in classics from Grinnell College in 1975. Having won a Marshall Scholarship, she pursued graduate study at the Centre for Byzantine Studies at the University of Birmingham, England. There she earned a master of letters degree, followed by a Ph.D., specializing in early Syriac Christianity — a distinctive community within Eastern Christianity. Ms. Harvey's career as a scholar and teacher has included work as a faculty member at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and the University of Rochester, prior to accepting her current position as professor of religious studies at Brown University. Her work focuses on the social aspects of Christianity, particularly issues affecting women. She points out the great variety of roles women played in the ancient church, including the many women saints emerging from all walks of life. She believes that the vocations of women active in the church today should also be recognized and celebrated.

Ms. Harvey's work has brought her many honors, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. In 2005, she received the Barrett Hazeltine Award for Teaching Excellence. She has served as president of the North American Patristic Society, and as a member of the governing board of several important scholarly organizations. She helped found and continues to organize the North American Syriac Symposium. At Brown University, Ms. Harvey has served in many important roles, including director of ancient studies and chair of the Committee on the Status of Women. She co-founded the Brown Seminar on Culture and Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean. Ms. Harvey has published widely on issues of women in ancient Christianity, monasticism, the cult of saints, and early Christian hymnography. Her most recent book, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, examines the role of sensory experience in early Christianity.

Grinnell College is pleased to honor Susan Ashbrook Harvey for her dedicated scholarship, her prowess as a teacher, and her continuing engagement with the moral issues of the world