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African American Religious Scholar to Become First Woman Dean of Harvard Divinity School

Harvard Divinity School

Marla Frederick, a prominent ethnographer and academic specializing in the African-American religious encounter, is set to become Dean of Harvard Divinity School—a historic appointment that marks the first instance of a woman taking the helm of the esteemed school.

Currently a professor of Religion and Culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, Frederick will take on her new post January 1, Harvard President Claudine Gay announced August 24.

Before joining Emory, Frederick held positions on the Harvard faculty from 2003 to 2019, first as an assistant professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and a concurrent appointment to the Committee on the Study of Religion. In 2008, she was named the Morris Kahn Associate Professor and then as a tenured professor in 2010.

In 2021, Frederick became president of the American Academy of Religion, and she has also held the position of president within the Association of Black Anthropologists.

Apart from Preston N. Williams, who was acting dean of Harvard Divinity School from 1974 to 1975, Frederick will be the first African American to lead the school, established in 1816 as the nation’s first nonsectarian theological institution.

Besides having authored or co-authored four books, Frederick, a native of Sumter, South Carolina, possesses specialized knowledge in areas such as religion and media, the intersection of religion and social activism in the southern United States, and the enduring strength of Black institutions.

Frederick is the author of Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global, a 2015 book about the influence of African-American televangelism beyond the U.S.

Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment, a 2016 book that Frederick coauthored, explores how Black Christians, Black Muslims and Black Jews have historically used media to fight religious exclusion rooted in race, thereby establishing their social equality as conscientious citizens.

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