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Emilie Townes selected for American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Emilie M. Townes, the Andrew F. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School, is one 212 new fellows to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences during ceremonies in Cambridge, MA on Oct. 10.

Townes began serving a dual role at YDS in 2008-09 when she was named associate dean of academic affairs. In 2008 she held a one-year term as president of the American Academy of Religion, the first African American woman to be so honored.

Attridge and TownesThe American Academy of Arts and Sciences celebrates pioneering research and scholarship, artistic achievement, and exemplary service to society.

“The Induction ceremony celebrates the Academy’s mission and the accomplishments of its newly elected members,” AAAS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Berlowitz said in announcing the new class of fellows. “Through three centuries of service, the Academy and its Fellows have been dedicated to intellectual leadership and constructive action in America and the world.”

Townes is a pivotal player in construction of the field of "womanist theology," broadly defined, as 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.

In an interview not long after arriving at Yale by way of Union Theological Seminary in New York, Townes said, "Basically, it's understanding that race and gender and class are not only social categories but they are also theological categories...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.”

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. One of her passions is developing a network between African American and Afro-Brazilian religious and secular leaders and community-based organizations.

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."

Among her many publications are Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health and a Womanist Ethic of Care; Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope; and In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness. Her most recent publication is Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. Prior to her appointment at Yale, Professor Townes served as the Carolyn Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. She is an ordained American Baptist clergywoman and holds A.B., A.M., and D.Min. degrees from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. fro Northwestern University.

According to the Academy announcement, the 212 new Fellows and 19 Foreign Honorary Members are leaders in research, scholarship, business, the arts, and public affairs. They come from 28 states and 11 countries and range in age from 33 to 83, representing universities, museums, national laboratories, research institutes, businesses, and foundations. This year’s group includes Nobel laureates and recipients of the Pulitzer and Pritzker prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, Academy, Grammy, and Tony awards, and the National Medal of Arts.

Eight other Yale professors are among the members of the class, including Dale Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies in the University’s Department of Religious Studies, with whom many Divinity students have studied.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. (www.amacad.org)