Harvard Names Black Woman As New Dean Of Divinity School

Dr. Marla Frederick is the first Black woman to serve as Dean of the Ivy League institution.

Dr. Marla Frederick, an acclaimed anthropologist and scholar of the African American Religious tradition, has made history being the first Black woman to be named Dean of Harvard Divinity School.

According to the Harvard Gazette, Frederick’s appointment was confirmed by President Claudine Gay, who became the first Black president of the University in December 2022, and she’ll begin her duties as Dean on January 1, 2024.

“We are thrilled to welcome Marla Frederick back to the University,” Gay said in a statement. “Her scholarship and her leadership have been distinguished by wide-ranging curiosity and engagement, and I am confident that those qualities, as well as her deep devotion to the mission of Harvard Divinity School, will make her an outstanding dean.”

Frederick, who previously taught at Harvard in the Department of African and African American Studies from 2003-2016, expressed her excitement about returning to Boston.

“I am honored to return to Harvard as the next dean of Harvard Divinity School,” Frederick said. “It is a place bustling with conscientious faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who are committed to the work of justice and human flourishing informed by deep study.

“I look forward to joining the HDS community in developing religious and civic leaders for our increasingly complex and diverse society. Dean David Hempton, through his years of dedicated service, has worked alongside HDS stakeholders to craft and implement a transformative global vision for the school, which I humbly respect and embrace, and look forward to cultivating and ultimately expanding,” Frederick continued.

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Provost Alan M. Garber, who co-chaired the committee that nominated the university’s new dean, lauded Frederick for her scholarship and leadership in the academy.

“Marla deeply understands the unique role and influence of the Harvard Divinity School, and why it is a cherished institution,” said Garber. “She recognizes the challenges and opportunities facing the School and will bring a fresh perspective informed by her service both within and outside of Harvard. Beyond her credentials as an influential scholar, she is also a devoted teacher whose thoughtful, collaborative nature shines through in everything she does. She is the right person to lead HDS in the years to come.”

Frederick’s work explores how the intersection of religion, race, and politics shapes the Black experience in America. Her renowned scholarship centers on “the study of religion and media, religion and social activism in the U.S. South, and the sustainability of Black institutions in a ‘post-racial’ world.”

She is the author or co-author of several books including, Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global and Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith.

Prior to being named to her new post, Frederick was the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and Culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Also at Emory,  she served on the University Tenure and Promotion Committee, the Personnel and Academic Policy Committee, and the Strategic Planning Committee for the Candler School of Theology. Recently, she was president of the American Academy of Religion in 2021 and also served as president of the Association of Black Anthropologists.

A native of Sumter, South Carolina, Frederick is a graduate of Spelman College with a bachelor’s degree and earned her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University. Before she began her time as a professor at Harvard in 2003, she served in a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University and was an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. She also was a postdoctoral fellow at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

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