Marla Frederick Becomes First Woman to Lead Harvard Divinity School

Marla F. Frederick, an Emory University professor of religion and culture, has been named the next dean of the Harvard Divinity School, effective January 1. She is the first woman and the first Black woman to run the university in its 207-year existence, according to University President Claudine Gay.

Frederick will follow David Hempton, who has been the divinity school’s dean since 2012. Before joining Emory, Frederick was a professor in Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department for 16 years.

“I am thrilled to welcome Marla back to Harvard,” Gay said in an email to the Harvard Divinity School students and alumni. “I am confident that Marla’s leadership qualities, her academic stature, her wide-ranging curiosity, her collaborative mindset, and her thoughtful and caring approach to all she does will combine to make her an excellent new dean.”

Frederick, a Sumter, South Carolina native, has a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Duke University. She joined the Harvard faculty in 2003 and was given tenure in 2010. She left Harvard after nine years to join the faculty of Emory University’s School of Theology.

Frederick served as interim chair of Harvard’s Committee for the Study of Religion and as director of graduate studies and chair of the admissions committee for the Department of African American Studies while at Harvard. According to The Harvard Gazette, a University-run daily website, when she came to Emory, she served on the university’s tenure and promotion advisory council as well as the Emory School of Theology’s committees on strategic planning, personnel, and academic policy.

Frederick, who has also served as president of the American Academy of Religion and the Association of Black Anthropologists, is an author. She is behind four books, including “Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global” and “Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith”, the Harvard Gazette said.

University Provost Alan M. Garber believes that Frederick is “the right person to lead HDS in the years to come.”

“​​Marla deeply understands the unique role and influence of the Harvard Divinity School, and why it is a cherished institution,” Garber said. “She recognizes the challenges and opportunities facing the school and will bring a fresh perspective informed by her service both within and outside of Harvard.”

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