RPL Summer Student Photography Competition 2022


A line drawing of hands hold a cellphone with the text RPL Summer Student Photo Competition

RPL invites Harvard graduate students participating in RPL programs to submit photographs from their experience for a judged photo competition. The program is open to current students in the Certificate in Religion and Public Life (CRPL) and students enrolled in the experiential learning course sponsored by the Religion, Conflict and Peace Initiative.  
Selected winners will have their photos highlighted on Harvard Divinity School’s social media, printed and installed in the RPL offices as well as used in future RPL publications and/or webpages. Photographers retain their copyright of the photo (meaning you can use them for other purposes and publications) and release rights to RPL to use the images for any appropriate use. All submitted photos may be used by RPL in future digital and print publications. Your name will be credited in RPL use of photos in the future. 
Submitted photos will address the theme of religion and public life and a just world at peace. For additional guidance, please see details below. Photos must be original, taken by the graduate student who is submitting them for this competition. Due to traveling and equipment restrictions, we encourage the use of any and all cameras, including cell phones/iphones and request submissions are the highest possible resolution.  
A panel of RPL Fellows and staff will determine first, second and third place winners as well as honorable mentions.  
First prize: $500 award 
Second prize: $300 award  
Third prize: $100 award 
Honorable mention: $15 gift certificate to the HDS Commons 
Students are invited to submit up to five selected images with a caption that describes the context and significance of each image (up to 50 words). Submissions are due by August 22, 2022. Winners will be announced on September 7, 2022.
Photos can be submitted at any time before August 22nd online via this online form.
Guidance on RPL Photography 
The RPL approach, and its emphasis on disrupting assumptions, can present challenges for visually communicating about religion. Our focus is on the ways that religion is present in ways people don’t always assume, and in ways that are not explicitly visible.  
  • Practice Ethical Photography: Ask for verbal consent before taking someone’s photo, particularly if the person is a minor and there is a parent/guardian present. If a subject is a stranger or there is a language barrier to asking for verbal consent, consider taking the photo in a way where the face of the person is not identifiable including from behind. Do not submit photographs that would in anyway be considered disrespectful, exploitative, or could present potential harm/threat in politically tense contexts. You may also want to include photos that don’t feature people such as street art, material culture, landscape, and other subjects.  
  • Consider self-photography (selfies!): You are a stakeholder in RPL as a graduate student! We encourage you to submit photos that include yourself in the photo.  
  • Focus on the public square: To accurately represent the work of the program, and distinguish it from other programs about religion, we do not want to reproduce assumptions about the role of religion in public life, including a focus on faith leaders and houses of worship. The focus of RPL is training social actors in the public sector to recognize the embedded role of religion in their work. We want to show that religion is ingrained in public life beyond places of worship or an overt reliance on images of people who bear physical markers of religion.  
  • Showing the good and the bad: The method and work of RPL emphasizes that religion motivates the “full range of human behavior” and is not a uniformly positive force in the world. While images of religious violence are not a great selling point for a program on religion and public life, we also don’t want to represent religion and religious leaders as uniformly positive. 
  • Inclusive images without tokenization: We share a commitment to make visible people who are non-white, non-American and non-Christian and also hold ourselves accountable to avoid tokenism and exploitation. One thing to consider is including people who have authentic connections to your work and, as much as possible, avoiding using faces of non-public figures who are not connected to our programming. This means that if you don’t have a relationship with a person in a photograph you are submitting, you may want to consider why that image represents your summer internship experience and the theme of religion in public life.  
  • Important note – women in hijab: Images of women in hijab, and the ongoing complexities of these images in the public imagination - layered with everything from Islamophobia to colonial savior impulses, to left-leaning celebrations of choice and empowerment. There is nothing inherently problematic with featuring images of women who are veiled; we strive to remind ourselves to continually reflect on when, how, and why we may use these images, and what is being signaled when we do – and to remind viewers that the woman with visible purple hair and tattoos next to her might well also be Muslim.  
The reflections above suggest some key questions and habits of mind that may be helpful when considering images.  
  • Who is active and who is passive or being acted upon in the image? What does this look like across the images more generally, and what overall message does that convey?  
  • What story is being told about what religion is and where it is present? Who is depicted as representative of particular faith traditions, if any?  
  • Does this image represent religion in the public sphere, beyond familiar images of religious people or spaces? Does this image speak to people who want to have an impact in the public square, beyond the church, mosque, temple, etc.?