Welcome from the Dean

Emilie M. Townes

Emilie M. Townes

Welcome to Vanderbilt Divinity School! We are delighted that you are interested in our school and the folks who breathe life into its mission and vision. The Divinity School is committed to preparation for ministry and scholarship in a variety of settings with a focus on our interdenominational spirit and our desire to be a diverse community of teaching and learning. We do so with a strong sense of the importance of providing a lively context to help clergy and laity not only prepare for Christian ministry, but to re-envision ministry to meet the needs of our times by combining spiritual and intellectual growth with a sense of social justice and the formation of a new generation of scholars.

The Divinity School has been a part of Vanderbilt University since its inception. We are one of the few university-based, interdenominational schools for the preparation of ministers and the oldest one in the South. Our nineteenth-century founders adopted a commonplace label for theological institutions of their era, "school of the prophets," as they sought to lift up the importance of education for clergy. Today, we accept this legacy as we live in a world of a large tent Christianity, religious pluralism, an ever-expanding understanding of the nature of the diversities in our midst, marvelous and challenging cultural differences and more.

These are exciting and perplexing times to join us in the great adventure of faith and scholarship. Here, we ask questions, seek wisdom, embrace academic rigor, explore the depths of the Spirit, and hope to offer thoughtful answers to the quandaries of our day. I trust you will give us serious consideration as you discern the next steps of your journey. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if have any questions.


Emilie M. Townes

Dean and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society

The Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes, a distinguished scholar and leader in theological education, is dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society. She is also the University Distinguished Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society and Gender and Sexuality Studies. 

Townes' broad areas of expertise include Christian ethics, cultural theory and studies, postmodernism and social postmodernism. She has been a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, a field of studies in which the historic and current insights of African American women are brought into critical engagement with the traditions of Christian theology. Townes has a strong interest in thinking critically about womanist perspectives on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry and literary theory. 

The ordained American Baptist clergywoman earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Joint Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary/Northwestern University Program in Religious and Theological Studies in 1989. She also received a doctorate in ministry from the University of Chicago in 1982. Previously, Townes earned her master's and bachelor's degrees at the University of Chicago.  She continues her research on women and health in the African diaspora in Brazil and the United States.

Townes was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the American Academy of Religion, which she led in 2008. She served  as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion (2012-2016) and she was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the  American Academy of Religion, which she led in 2008. In 2022, she was the first Black woman to be elected to the presidential line of the Society of Christian Ethics, which she will lead in 2025. Townes was inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She is also the first Black woman elected to the presidential line of the Society of Christian Ethics which she will lead in 2024-2025. 

Townes, who was born in Durham, N.C., came to Vanderbilt from Yale Divinity School, where she was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology and associate dean of academic affairs. Previously, she was the Carolyn Williams Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. 

In 2010 Townes was honored as Distinguished Religious Scholar by the Black Religious Scholars Group. She also received a Doctor of Human Letters from the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary that year. She has also received honorary doctorates from Washington and Jefferson College, Franklin College, and Christian Theological Seminary. 

Townes has been a contributing blogger for the religion page of the Huffington Post and the Feminism in Religion Forum.

She is the author of the groundbreaking book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2006). Other books include: