The Search for God at Harvard

THE SEARCH FOR GOD AT HARVARD mixes Goldman’s detailed observations of his professors and fellow students with his own musings on himself and his Jewish upbringing, and the place and function of religion in contemporary society. The people and situations Goldman encountered illuminate these musings, and the narrative switches between reportage, philosophy, and self-examination.

Upon arriving at Harvard, Goldman immediately discovered that his expectations of dour Protestant devotion were misplaced. At the Divinity School’s orientation dance, Goldman found his fellow students in spiked hair and hip clothes dancing to Michael Jackson and U2. Their reasons for attending the Divinity School ranged widely, from the real-estate developer whose career and marriage had collapsed to the linguist who had discovered the spiritual nature of language. Goldman was also surprised by the school itself where he found religious relativism instead of statements of religious truth.

THE SEARCH FOR GOD AT HARVARD is partially an autobiography, with Goldman revealing more and more of his life as the process of studying various religions causes him to examine his own life and values. This self-examination is often very witty. Goldman writes of the Jewish practice of doing good deeds, or mitzvahs, and how as a boy, his mother tried to use it to get him to take out the garbage. “God is, of course, somewhere in this system of mitzvahs, but the practitioner is usually too busy to notice.”

Goldman devotes one chapter each to several religions: Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and African religions. He also devotes chapters to topics such as orthodoxy and women in religion. Each of these chapters is interspersed with relevant conversations with classmates and social observations. In a final chapter Goldman relates how he moved from Manhattan to a wealthy suburb after his time at the Divinity School, and found the Jews there hypocritical and intolerant compared with the people he met at Harvard.