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University of Chicago Divinity School scholar joins two other women newly appointed as senior faculty at YDS

Kathryn Tanner '79 B.A., '85 Ph.D., the Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, has joined the Yale Divinity School faculty as professor of systematic theology, effective July 1.  A proponent of “constructive theology,” Tanner’s research focuses on how Christian thought might be brought to bear on contemporary issues of theological concern using social, cultural and feminist theory.

TannerHarold Attridge, the Rev. Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School, said Tanner’s appointment brings to a close what he termed “a very successful year of recruiting new senior faculty,” noting that the hiring of Tanner and two other women theologians in 2009-10 is particularly fitting at a time when YDS is formally celebrating eight decades of women on campus.

Said Attridge, “These new colleagues—Jennifer Herdt, Mary Moschella, and Kathryn Tanner—will provide leadership not only for YDS, but for the whole world of theological scholarship in the decades ahead.”  Herdt will joint YDS as professor of Christian ethics, and Moschella will serve as professor of pastoral care and counseling.  Both appointments, like Tanner’s, are effective July 1.

"I'm most looking forward to the excitement and challenges of working with a whole new cohort of students, faculty, and staff,” Tanner said.  “Yale Divinity School is a wonderful community and I am very grateful for the chance to be part of the vibrant life of the place.”

Tanner served on the faculty of the University of Chicago Divinity School for 15 years, which followed more than a decade of teaching in Yale’s Department of Religious Studies and at Yale Divinity School.

Tanner’s most recent books are Christ the Key (Cambridge, 2010) and Economy of Grace (Fortress, 2005).  Her other books include God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Blackwell, 1988); Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Fortress, 1992); Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Fortress, 1997); and Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity (Fortress, 2001).  She is the author of scores of scholarly articles and chapters in books that include The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, which she edited with John Webster and Iain Torrance.

She serves on the editorial boards of Modern Theology, International Journal of Systematic Theology, and Scottish Journal of Theology, and is a former co-editor of the Journal of Religion. Active in many professional societies, she is a past president of the American Theological Society, the oldest theological society in the United States. An Episcopalian, for eight years she has been a member of the Episcopal Church’s Theology Committee, which advises the Episcopal House of Bishops.  While her appointment at YDS begins July 1, during the 2010-11 academic year she will be on leave as a Luce Fellow, researching financial markets and the critical perspectives that Christian theology can bring to bear on them.

“The University of Chicago Divinity School, where I taught for the last 15 years, is a great institution but a very different one from Yale Divinity School,” Tanner observed.  “Chicago's Divinity School is unusual because it is much more like a religious studies department than a divinity school: it does not train many people for the ministry and the focus of the curriculum is on doctoral education.

“While certainly noted for the intellectual rigor of its academic programs, Yale's Divinity School has a broader sense of primary mission—not simply to promote scholarly research but to help its students minister to both church and world. Many other university-based divinity schools try to bridge the concerns of church, academy, and public life in this way, but none does it better than Yale Divinity School. Its illustrious history of faculty and graduates speaks to that fact."

Writing earlier this year in the Feb. 23 issue of Christian Century magazine, Tanner summarized her thinking about the role of theology in the contemporary world.  There, she identified a “shift from methodological to substantive preoccupations” as characteristic of a new wave of theologians, including herself. 

“Theologians are now primarily called to provide not a theoretical argument for Christianity’s plausibility, but an account of how Christianity can be part of the solution—rather than part of the problem—on matters that make a life-and-death difference to people, especially the poor and the oppressed,” she wrote.  As such, Tanner noted, “Theology’s closest analogue can no longer be a perennial philosophy, addressing the most general questions of human moment purportedly common to every time and place, but rather sociopolitical theory.”

Questions that naturally arise in the context of constructive theology, according to Tanner, are related to the fundamental issue of “whether theology has anything important to say about the world and our place in it,” for example, “What resources . . . does the Christian symbol system have for addressing the financial calamity and environmental degradation we must now all face up to, whether we like it or not?”

Attridge said, “Our new senior colleague in systematic theology, Kathryn Tanner, will significantly enhance the theology teaching group at Yale.  She brings to the task of formulating a theology for the twenty-first century a thorough command of the classical theological literature, a careful analytic approach to theological issues, and a keen sensitivity to the ways in which theological principles apply to the modern situation.

“She knows the tradition of theological reflection at Yale, having earned her B.A. from Yale College and her Ph.D. from the Graduate School.  Committed to the life of the Church, she will be an excellent fit for a school whose mission is to educate religious leaders both ordained and lay.”

Revised 7/1/2010