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Phillis Isabella Sheppard

Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture

Phillis Isabella Sheppard is Associate Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at the Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion of Vanderbilt University. Her research in Religion, Psychology and Culture engages the intersection where the social and the intrapsychic meet. In Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) she argued for the necessity of fostering a psychoanalytic dimension to womanist approaches to practical theology.  The book was the focus of a panel discussion at the American Academy of Religion’s Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society session.

Her current book in progress, Tilling Sacred Ground: Explorations in a Womanist Cultural Psychology of Religion, assumes the groundwork laid in Self, Culture and Others and advances it by turning to the lived religious experiences, expressed in, but well beyond, the “official” religious sites, of black women. Tilling Sacred Ground asserts that religious experience, and the contemporary sites where it is produced (i.e. cyberspace, sermons and spiritual guidance, conversion narratives and “outsider” art), creates spaces for the embodiment of the gendered, racial, and psycho-cultural aspects of the self and groups. Sheppard posits that black religion operates as it does because powerful psycho-cultural forces are at play.   By employing an applied womanist psychoanalytic perspective, this work will contribute to existing approaches to the study of black religious experience.

As a practical theologian she is recognized for her contributions to womanist perspectives in psychoanalysis and religion, methodology, cultural studies, and pastoral theology. She serves on the steering or executive committees of several national guilds: Psychology, Culture and Religion and the Womanist Approaches to the Study of Religion and Society both groups of the American Academy of Religion; the Association of Practical Theology; and the Theological Education committee of the American Academy of Religion.  Additionally she is book review co-editor for Journal of Pastoral Society; section editor of the Reflections section for the Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling

She received advanced training and certificates in pastoral psychotherapy (Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago, 1993) and adult psychoanalysis (Institute for Psychoanalysis, 2005). She maintained a clinical practice for over twenty years and served in pastoral roles in two urban parish settings. She earned her M.A. from Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Theology (1988) and her Ph.D. from Chicago Theological Seminary, concentrating in Theology, Ethics and the Human Sciences (1997).