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Harvard Divinity School: Named Lecture Series

Dudleian Lectures

Paul Dudley was born on September 3, 1675, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He was the son of Governor Joseph Dudley and the grandson of Governor Thomas Dudley, one of the colony’s founders. After graduating from The Roxbury Latin School, Paul Dudley attended Harvard University, graduating at the age of 15 in 1690. He studied law at the Temple in London, and later served as the Attorney-General of Massachusetts from 1702 to 1718. Dudley was a member of the Royal Society of London, and he contributed several papers on the natural history of New England to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, its scientific journal. He became the Associate Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature from 1718 to 1745, before becoming the Chief Justice from 1745 until his death in 1751. 

According to the Report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, Paul Dudley benefited financially from slavery and enslaved at least two people of African descent. He donated £133 in 1750 to fund an annual lecture, making the  Dudleian Lecture one of Harvard's oldest foundations.  Dudley provided the fund so that a series of four topics would be addressed on a rotating basis, addressing one of the following topics per year:

-Natural Religion, on "the principles of natural religion, as it is commonly called and understood by Divine and Learned men."

-Revealed Religion, on "the confirmation, illustration, and improvement of the great articles of the Christian Religion properly so called, or the revelation which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was pleased to make."

-Romish Church, on "detecting, and convicting, and exposing the Idolatry of the Romish Church, their tyranny, usurpations, damnable heresies, fatal errors, abominable superstitions, and other crying wickednesses in their high places."

-Presbyterian or Congregational Ordination, on "the maintaining, explaining, and proving the validity of the ordination of ministers or Pastors of the churches ... as the same hath been practiced in New England, from the first beginning of it, and so continued to this day."

The first lecture was given in 1755 by President Edward Holyoke.   Bilhah and Juba were enslaved workers in Holyoke's household during his presidency.

The lecture series continued uninterrupted until 1857, when it was decided by the Trustees of the Dudleian Lecture that the annual lecture should be suspended for some time, "in order that the Fund, now in their judgment insufficient to support the charge of the same, may accumulate." After the Trustees had determined that the fund had accumulated sufficiently, the lecture series began again in 1888 with an address given by George Park Fisher. In 1911 the Trustees of the lecture voted to omit the third lecture topic on "the Idolatry of the Romish Church." The lecture series continued to rotate among the remaining three topics until 1956, when the Trustees voted to reinstate another lecture topic "with a broader title and a more irenic purpose." Thus, it was voted that the Lecture would be given again on a four-year cycle, with the following categories:

-Natural Religion

-Revealed Religion

-Catholicism and Protestantism

-Presbyterian or Congregational Ordination

Information about past Dudleian lectures can be found in the Excel sheet below.

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