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Dean of the Divinity School

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University invites applications and nominations for the position of Dean of the Divinity School. The new Dean will lead an outstanding and dedicated faculty within a world-class university that is well recognized for its excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service activities. The University seeks a distinguished senior scholar who will sustain and enhance the Divinity School’s efforts to move religious leadership forward into the next generation through its research and education programs. The Dean will increase the Divinity School’s national and international visibility, while creating expanded opportunities for research, teaching, and outreach.


Vanderbilt Divinity School is one of only a few university-based, interdenominational, and interfaith theological institutions in the country. More than 40 world-class scholars (including 23 tenured and tenure-track faculty) encourage mutual challenge and exchange of values in discerning the role of religion for the church, other institutions, and society in our time. The school currently enrolls 310 students in graduate and professional studies from more than 30 religious traditions, 30 different states and countries, and 10 ethnic backgrounds. This religious and cultural context of difference, diversity and pluralism is one of the Divinity School’s most distinctive features. In the words of the Divinity School faculty, “we work hard to hire and form competent, historically grounded theologians within living religious traditions who are also committed pluralists.”

The Divinity School’s budget is approximately $9 million, including $1.2 million in externally funded research. The Divinity School is responsible for $2 million in funding each year for students in the Graduate Department of Religion’s Ph.D. program. A grant from the Lilly Endowment will provide full support to approximately one-third of the Ph.D. students for the next ten years.


The Divinity School degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Theological Studies, and the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy through the Graduate Department of Religion. Dual degrees are offered in collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Schools of Management, Law, Nursing, and Medicine, and graduate certificates are offered in partnership with the Programs in Jewish Studies and Latin American Studies in the College of Arts and Science. In addition, the Divinity School is home to the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality; the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Studies; the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions; the Turner Center for Church Leadership and Congregational Development; and the Program in Religion in the Arts in Contemporary Culture.

Resources of the University and affiliated institutions offer rich opportunities for students to secure additional knowledge and skills in preparation for their vocations. The Divinity School’s field education program immerses students in congregations,non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and universities in the Nashville area, to gain insights as they integrate theory with practice.

History and Mission

For 135 years, Vanderbilt Divinity School has prided itself in living up to the name of Schola Prophetarum, a school of the prophets. The Divinity School grew out of the Biblical Department of Vanderbilt University, which was established in 1877, two years after the founding of the University under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Since 1914 the Divinity School has carried on its work as an ecumenical theological school under the direction of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust. In 1966, the Graduate School of Theology of Oberlin College was moved to Vanderbilt University, providing the Divinity School with an expansion and strengthening of its academic programs and greater opportunities for service.

The Divinity School mission seeks to fulfill a range of objectives: to engage men and women in a theological understanding of religious traditions; to help persons, both lay and ordained, re-envision and prepare for the practice of Christian and other forms of ministry in our time; to encourage individuals in their spiritual and intellectual growth; to prepare leaders who will be agents of social justice; and to educate future scholars and teachers of religion.

The faculty of the Divinity School has expressed a series of commitments that encompass the critical and open examination of the Hebraic and Christian traditions. Central to these commitments is the faculty’s dedication to the education of women and men who will be forceful representatives of the faith and effective agents in working for a more just and humane society, for the development of new and better modes of ministry, and for leadership in church and society that will help to alleviate the ills besetting individuals and groups. The faculty is also committed to the education of men and women who have, or are helped to develop, strong resources of personal faith, without which their leadership in church and community would be jeopardized. (A full statement of the purposes and commitments of the Divinity School faculty can be found at:

The Graduate Department of Religion

The Graduate Department of Religion (GDR), housed in the University’s Graduate School, is staffed by faculty located both in the Divinity School and throughout the University (including the College of Arts and Science Department of Religious Studies), and is financed primarily by the Divinity School. The GDR offers the Ph.D. degree in Theological Studies, Historical Studies, New Testament, Hebrew Bible, Ethics and Society, Homiletics and Liturgics, Religion, Personality and Culture, and History and Critical Theories of Religion (HACTOR). Thanks to the University’s recent and significant investment in graduate education and the Lilly Endowment’s support of the Theology and Practice Program, financial support for GDR doctoral students is on a par with other top-flight graduate programs in religion. The Theology and Practice Program, which trains graduate students in all eight fields for faculty positions in theological education, is a distinctive feature of the GDR offerings.


Vanderbilt University was established in 1873 and is a private, internationally renowned research university located in Nashville, Tennessee. It comprises 10 distinct schools,1 which share a single picturesque and cohesive campus that nurtures interdisciplinary and trans-institutional activities. The University enrolls 6,800 undergraduates in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, and education and human development, while 5,800 graduate and professional students study for a full range of graduate and professional degrees. The University is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 universities by publications such as U.S. News & World Report, with several programs and disciplines ranking in the top 10.

Vanderbilt has in recent years undertaken several remarkable initiatives in its role as a leader in higher education and research. For example, it recently established a unique residential college system for first year undergraduates, The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, and is pursuing an extensive program of new construction of college halls to enhance undergraduate life. It has one of the most progressive, need-blind tuition policies for undergraduates in the country, which is committed to meeting 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need without the use of student loans. It has an exemplary record in increasing diversity at all levels and has ambitious programs in international collaboration and outreach. It has successfully increased the scale and impact of its research and scholarship while still maintaining a strong emphasis on effective teaching and mentoring of students at all levels.

The University employs more than 24,000 people, including a faculty of 3,500, making it the largest private employer in middle Tennessee and the second largest in the state. Total net assets are approximately $4.3 billion; the endowment is currently valued in excess of $3.6 billion; the annual operating budget is $3.4 billion; and externally funded research exceeds $615 million annually. The campus consists of 238 buildings located on 330 contiguous acres and is a national arboretum.

Vanderbilt University and its Divinity School are located in midtown Nashville, named by Fortune as one of the “15 Best U.S. Cities for Work and Family.” This cosmopolitan city and the surrounding metropolitan area are home to more than 1.5 million people, with seven universities, two professional sports teams, and more than 3,000 acres of parkland. Nashville is also one of the most vibrant arts communities in the country, from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to performing arts venues such as the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the annual Shakespeare in the Park, and the historic Grand Ole Opry.


Reporting to the University Provost, the Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School will be joining a community of deeply committed students, faculty and staff, as well as a group of collaborative Vanderbilt University deans who understand and value the Divinity School as an integral part of the overall university. Working with all of these constituencies, the Dean will address the following areas upon arrival:

Positioning the Divinity School – The Dean will guide the Divinity School in assuming a strong leadership role in theological education for the 21st Century, building on its capacity for quietly and confidently addressing the cultural changes and needs of our interrelated global society. Establishing a longer-term vision of the school’s future will enable the Divinity School to continue to recruit outstanding faculty committed to the school’s mission and direction. The Dean will continue to ensure the high standards necessary for all Divinity School academic programs within a rigorous academic environment of openness, diversity and dialogue.

Strategic Planning – The Dean will engage the Divinity School community in reflecting upon the school’s many achievements and strengths, while identifying and/or reconfirming priorities for the Divinity School’s future that build upon its mission and tradition. Since the Divinity School is an integral part of Vanderbilt University as a whole, members of the greater Vanderbilt community also will be consulted, as appropriate. Identifying these priorities will enable the Dean and the Divinity School community to establish goals, objectives and time lines that can guide their work and help to engage others in the work of the school.

Fundraising – The Dean will be actively involved in the identification and pursuit of funds that can be linked to the Divinity School’s strategic goals. This will call for new sources of funds, including foundations and individuals, as well as maintaining and expanding relations with existing sources such as the Luce, Templeton, and Carpenter Foundations, and the Lilly Endowment. Gift priorities already identified include the Divinity School’s physical plant and structure, existing and expanded financial aid and scholarships for students in all programs, and expansion of the endowment (currently just over $140 million).

Program Development – The Dean will encourage Divinity School commitment to existing dual-degree programs and expansion of new interdisciplinary programs, while honoring the school’s commitments to advocacy, social justice and entrepreneurial ministry sought by so many students today. According to the faculty, three areas of future emphasis for curriculum development include the school’s praxis, interfaith, and global orientations. Vanderbilt Divinity School is fortunate to have an expanding enrollment, including traditional-aged students coming directly from undergraduate programs, counter to the trend of shrinking theological-school enrollments nationwide. Vanderbilt University’s outstanding reputation as a research institution is reflected in the Divinity School’s national reputation for the education of scholars of religion and theology.The Dean will play an important role in working with faculty across the university in support of graduate education. The Dean will also be actively involved in the recruitment and support of both divinity students and Ph.D. students whose aspirations can be well served through the Divinity School’s mission.

Community Building – The Dean will provide support and encouragement to the Divinity School’s outstanding faculty, a key to program excellence. This will include appropriate recognition and increased collaboration of faculty from all disciplines, as well as the development and promotion of faculty at all career stages within the Divinity School. Equally important will be opportunities for professional development and creative enhancement of Divinity School staff, and addressing the needs of students who are entering with more significant counseling and vocational-discernment needs. The Dean will encourage recognition among all Divinity School constituencies that, as valued and essential components of the school and of Vanderbilt University, they are an integral part of this institution and can make a significant and positive difference to its future.

External Relations – The Dean will assume a leadership role within the Nashville community by working closely with the Divinity School Board of Visitors, becoming involved in the city’s public service and cultural venues, and reaching out to all religious communities including churches, synagogues and mosques. The Dean’s ability to articulate the mission and engage others in the work of the school can make an essential difference in attracting students, in ensuring field education opportunities for students in the community, and in expanding potential individual funding sources. Scholarly Training – Divinity School faculty are deeply engaged in training the M.A. and Ph.D. students in the Graduate Department of Religion. Although not officially a program of the Divinity School proper, the GDR is supported primarily by faculty and financial resources from the Divinity School. As a result, the Dean of the Divinity School will continue to play a critical role in supporting the work of the GDR in forming future scholars of religion. The Dean will be a full participant alongside the graduate faculty in planning and guiding that work.


The Dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School will possess a terminal academic degree, be an accomplished scholar with credentials appropriate for appointment as a full professor in the Graduate Department of Religion, and bring demonstrated leadership and administrative achievements in higher education. Other attributes the search committee is seeking, in no priority order, include:

● A personal commitment to a religious affiliation, while embracing religious pluralism;

● Demonstrated commitment to a respectful and supportive environment for diversity at all levels, and readiness to learn from this diversity;

● Experience in a research environment, with the ability to understand and support the Vanderbilt model of minister as theologian;

● A person of vision, and an engaged listener, who can lead Vanderbilt Divinity School successfully into the future;

● Demonstrated commitment to students and to addressing their needs and their priorities as emerging leaders;

● The ability to be fully engaged in an academic community that embraces scholarship and the arts, along with honest discourse in the examination of ethical and theological issues;

● A collegial, collaborative approach that encourages both open communication and continued collaborative contributions from faculty and staff;

● An appreciation for a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and the intellectual curiosity to build partnerships among them with the theological world;

● Professionally versatile, with the ability to serve as a theologian and scholar in the dean’s capacity as administrator, fundraiser, and inspirational leader of the Divinity School;

● An engaging personality, who can encourage multiple audiences to become a part of the work of the Divinity School;

● A serious commitment to continuing the Divinity School’s strong support for graduate education of research scholars in religion, alongside the school’s work in professional training;

● A decisive administrator, who can encourage consensus regarding high standards and goals, without dictating outcomes.


Review of applications will begin immediately and candidate materials received by September 15, 2012 will be assured of full consideration. Applications will be treated in confidence and should include a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, and five names of professional references with e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.

Please send materials electronically (in MS Word format) to:

Vanderbilt University Divinity School is being assisted by Dr. Tobie van der Vorm of AGB Search, Washington, DC. Interested candidates or nominators may contact her at (202) 255-3225 or by e-mail at

Visit the school’s website at or for more information. Vanderbilt University is an Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer. See

1 In addition to the Divinity School, Vanderbilt University comprises the College of Arts and Science, the Peabody College of Education and Human Development, the Blair School of Music, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering, the Owen Graduate School of Management, the Law School, and the Graduate School.