Marla Frederick Named First Woman Dean at Harvard Divinity School


September 14, 2023

Marla Frederick, a cultural anthropologist specializing in the Black religious experience, has been appointed as the new dean of Harvard Divinity School.

Her role will commence on January 1, reports The Washington Post.

When she assumes her role, Frederick will become the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the school in its 207-year history.


Frederick is originally from Sumter, S.C. She received her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and her PhD in cultural anthropology from Duke University.

Frederick was previously a professor of religion and culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. She also worked for 16 years as a professor in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard. And she was the president of the American Academy of Religion in 2021.

In an email to Harvard Divinity School students and alumni, Harvard University President Claudine Gay shared her excitement about Frederick’s return to the university.


“I am thrilled to welcome Marla back to Harvard,” Gay said. “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 is an author and co-author of four books — including “Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global” and “Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment.”

Frederick will succeed David Hempton, who has been dean of the school since 2012.


“I am honored to return to Harvard as the next dean of Harvard Divinity School,” Frederick said in a statement. “It is a place bustling with conscientious faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who are committed to the work of justice and human flourishing informed by deep study.

Preston N. Williams was the first Black dean of the Harvard Divinity School. He served from 1974 to 1975. 

Photo by Emory University


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