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Emilie M. Townes appointed to succeed Robert Wilson as associate dean of academic affairs

Emilie M. Townes, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School, has been named to succeed Robert Wilson as associate dean of academic affairs. When she assumes the post in July 2008, Townes will become the first woman and the first African American to serve as the school's top academic administrator.

In announcing the appointment, Dean Harold Attridge said was delighted that Townes has accepted the position, noting that, since joining the Yale Divinity School faculty two years ago, Townes has “ assumed a role of leadership” not only among colleagues at YDS but also within the broader University. He called her “a leading scholar in the field of African American theology and ethics.” In addition to teaching at YDS, Townes holds several other positions at Yale: Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of African American Studies; Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and Professor of Religious Studies.

“I very much look forward to working with Prof. Townes in the years ahead as we work to keep YDS at the forefront of theological education,” said Attridge. Wilson, the Hoober Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Old Testament, has served as academic dean since 2004.

For her part, Townes said, “ Along with the normal areas that the academic dean addresses, there are several key areas I anticipate addressing during my tenure as academic dean.”

Among those:

Development of a strong mentoring program for pre-tenure faculty

  • Coordination of the Supervised Ministries field work program in relation to the school's larger curriculum
  • Working closely with the dean of students to provide academic support for students
  • Supporting the new urban ministries initiative
  • Helping continue what she termed the “positive direction” the school has taken regarding diversity in the areas of campus ethos, curriculum, admissions and new faculty hires
  • Working on a process that will help students on issues of ministerial formation and discernment of careers and goals

Townes is one of the faculty leaders of the Initiative on Religion and Politics at Yale , based at the Divinity School. The Initiative seeks to foster thoughtful activism, enrich scholarly discourse, and deepen public conversation on the place of religion in public life, both nationally and internationally.

Not only has Townes made a mark on the Yale community in the two years she has spent on campus since leaving New York's Union Theological Seminary in 2005. On the national scene, she is currently serving as president-elect of the American Academy of Religion and is scheduled to become president in 2008.

Townes's teaching and general research interests focus on Christian ethics, womanist ethics, critical social theory, cultural theory and studies, as well as on postmodernism and social postmodernism. Her more specific interests include health and health care; the cultural production of evil; analyzing the linkages among race, gender, class, and other forms of other forms of oppression; and developing a network between African American and Afro-Brazilian religious and secular leaders and community-based organizations.

Among Townes's 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.

An ordained American Baptist clergywoman, she earned an A.B. at the University of Chicago; an A.M. and D.Min. at the University of Chicago Divinity School; and a Ph.D. at Northwestern University

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