Emilie M. Townes
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology
Emilie M. Townes, a pivotal player in construction of the field of "womanist theology," is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School. She came to YDS from Union Theological Seminary, where she was the Carolyn Williams Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics. She served as president of the American Academy of Religion in 2008.
Broadly defined, "womanist theology" is a field of theological and ethical reflection in which the historic and present-day insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology.
"Basically, it's understanding that race and gender and class are not only social categories but they are also theological categories and using as a first step the ideas and concepts that are coming from black women's lives to understand the focus of theology and ethics," is how Townes puts it.
In exploring the growing edges of the field, Townes pushes readers and students to think critically about womanist perspectives-not only on traditional theological themes but also on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry, and linguistic theory.
Her first two major works, Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope (Scholars Press, 1993) and In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness (Abingdon Press, 1995) were seminal texts in the field. In Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Care and A Womanist Ethic of Care (Continuum Press, 1998), Townes develops an ethical argument for adequate health care based on empirical and scientific data.
Her goal in teaching is to move students beyond the strictly academic into a realm where words are wedded to belief and action.
Says Townes, "In my teaching I want to get students excited about that notion of, you know, you're not just here to get a Yale degree and have it on your diploma and be able to hang it on your wall...You should be here thinking about what kind of contributions can I make to society....What are you doing that helps enhance the lives of all of us, as opposed to (our) own little idiosyncratic research interests."
Townes gave the address at the 2005 Opening Convocation worship service, and there she spoke of the need to live in a "deep walking hope" that shapes lives " in ways that are not always predictable, not always safe, rarely conventional" and protests "with prophetic fury the sins of a world, and sometimes theological world views, that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from our hearts, our beliefs from our actions."
An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, Townes holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago, an M.A. and D.Min. from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.