Marla F. Frederick, a professor of religion and culture at Emory University, has been named the next dean of the Harvard Divinity School beginning January 1. She becomes the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the school in its 207-year history, University President Claudine Gay announced Thursday.
Frederick will succeed David Hempton, who has served as dean of the divinity school since 2012. Frederick previously spent 16 years as a professor in Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department before leaving for Emory.
“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, who is a native of Sumter, South Carolina, holds a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University. She first joined Harvard’s faculty in 2003 and received tenure in 2010. Nine years later, she left Harvard to join the faculty of Emory University’s School of Theology.
While at Harvard, Frederick was interim chair of Harvard’s Committee on the Study of Religion and served as director of graduate studies and chair of the admissions committee for the Department of African American Studies. When she moved to Emory, she served on the university’s tenure and promotion advisory committee and the Emory School of Theology’s committees on strategic planning and personnel and academic policy, according to The Harvard Gazette, a University-run news publication.
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.”