Qadry Harris

The Philosopher
Former Pace University student, Qadry Harris

Religion and academia have long held a tenuous relationship. Understanding their points of intersection, Qadry Harris ’14 doesn’t necessarily see it that way.   

“The end game is doing PhD studies in the field of religion, specifically working to bridge that alleged gap that happens between church spaces and academic spaces,” says Harris. “Because often what I had found both anecdotally and in research is that the two spaces have and can have a hostile relationship toward each other.”

Faith and service have always been a part of Harris’ life. Growing up in Mount Vernon, NY, his family attended service regularly at the Walker Memorial Baptist Church, where his parents worked and much of his entire life was centered.

As an undergraduate at Pace, Harris found his academic calling as a philosophy and religious studies major. The discipline of philosophy is not, he says, “about having your head in the clouds and thinking about theoretical scenarios that will never happen. Philosophy is about answering the basic questions of life, or at least attempting to answer them.”

Harris had planned to study part-time for a master’s degree in philosophy after graduating with honors from Pace. His plans went askew when he asked his mentor, Professor Lawrence Hundersmarck, for a letter of recommendation. 

“He was frank with me. He said, ‘No. I can’t support this. You need to commit to scholarship,’” Harris recalls. “I knew he wouldn’t deny the request without reason. It made me think that I need to commit to this pursuit and apply to top tier schools.”

Harris reconsidered his graduate school plans and was accepted to the only school he applied to–Yale University’s Divinity School–with a full academic scholarship. He recently completed the program, receiving a Master of Divinity, the broad professional degree that is often the requirement to be ordained in most Christian churches. 

While at Yale, Harris focused his coursework in the areas of black religions and the African Diaspora—an area of study he’ll continue to pursue at the PhD level. Ultimately, whether or not Harris becomes ordained or moves further into the academy, he aims to carry on the black intellectual tradition of Reverend Martin Luther King and Cornell West by fusing theology with social change and civil rights. He also hopes to further examine and bring to light the work of lesser-known scholars and activists, including the civil rights leader Ella Baker.  

“(Baker) had a completely different vision for what the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement should be. She was all about decentralizing the leadership and particularly giving power to the people. I think she’s definitely one I would lift up.”

Given his considerable experience in both academia and the church, Harris is positioning himself to become a major voice in his field—a voice he will continue cultivating while obtaining his PhD. 

“So the idea is to head into a PhD program in religious studies this time next year. And I’ll be there for the next five to six years—and hopefully by then, I’ll find a unique way to be both active and church spaces and the academy.”

Former Pace University student, Qadry Harris

Religion and academia have long held a tenuous relationship. Understanding their points of intersection, Qadry Harris ’14 doesn’t necessarily see it that way.   

“The end game is doing PhD studies in the field of religion, specifically working to bridge that alleged gap that happens between church spaces and academic spaces,” says Harris. “Because often what I had found both anecdotally and in research is that the two spaces have and can have a hostile relationship toward each other.”

Faith and service have always been a part of Harris’ life. Growing up in Mount Vernon, NY, his family attended service regularly at the Walker Memorial Baptist Church, where his parents worked and much of his entire life was centered.

As an undergraduate at Pace, Harris found his academic calling as a philosophy and religious studies major. The discipline of philosophy is not, he says, “about having your head in the clouds and thinking about theoretical scenarios that will never happen. Philosophy is about answering the basic questions of life, or at least attempting to answer them.”

Harris had planned to study part-time for a master’s degree in philosophy after graduating with honors from Pace. His plans went askew when he asked his mentor, Professor Lawrence Hundersmarck, for a letter of recommendation. 

“He was frank with me. He said, ‘No. I can’t support this. You need to commit to scholarship,’” Harris recalls. “I knew he wouldn’t deny the request without reason. It made me think that I need to commit to this pursuit and apply to top tier schools.”

Harris reconsidered his graduate school plans and was accepted to the only school he applied to–Yale University’s Divinity School–with a full academic scholarship. He recently completed the program, receiving a Master of Divinity, the broad professional degree that is often the requirement to be ordained in most Christian churches. 

While at Yale, Harris focused his coursework in the areas of black religions and the African Diaspora—an area of study he’ll continue to pursue at the PhD level. Ultimately, whether or not Harris becomes ordained or moves further into the academy, he aims to carry on the black intellectual tradition of Reverend Martin Luther King and Cornell West by fusing theology with social change and civil rights. He also hopes to further examine and bring to light the work of lesser-known scholars and activists, including the civil rights leader Ella Baker.  

“(Baker) had a completely different vision for what the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement should be. She was all about decentralizing the leadership and particularly giving power to the people. I think she’s definitely one I would lift up.”

Given his considerable experience in both academia and the church, Harris is positioning himself to become a major voice in his field—a voice he will continue cultivating while obtaining his PhD. 

“So the idea is to head into a PhD program in religious studies this time next year. And I’ll be there for the next five to six years—and hopefully by then, I’ll find a unique way to be both active and church spaces and the academy.”