Marla Frederick Named New Dean of Harvard Divinity School

by Xara Aziz
Harvard Divinity School

A leading ethnographer and scholar focused on the African American religious experience has been appointed dean of Harvard Divinity School, the University announced Thursday.

In an email sent to the school’s current students, staff, faculty and alumni, Harvard President Claudine Gay said Marla Frederick would assume the role beginning January 1.

Frederick currently serves as the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and Culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Before then, she was a faculty member at Harvard from 2003-2019, including serving as an assistant professor in the Department of African and African American Studies with a joint appointment on the Committee on the Study of Religion. Frederick has also been named the Morris Kahn Associate Professor and became a tenured professor in 2010.

“We are thrilled to welcome Marla Frederick back to the University,” Gay wrote 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.”

Before Harvard, Frederick served as an esteemed leader in several leadership positions, including working as interim chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion. She was also a member of the provost’s academic leadership forum and was director of graduate studies and chair of the admissions committee for the Department of African and African American Studies.

“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.”

She continued: “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 succeeds Hempton, the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies and John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity, who was the dean for 11 years.

Frederick hails from Sumter, South Carolina and earned her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College before earning a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University. She has served as a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University in addition to a role as an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. She also held a postdoctoral position at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Congratulations, Dr. Frederick!

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