Candler’s Black Church Studies Program will welcome Emilie M. Townes as distinguished guest speaker for the annual Anna Julia Cooper Lecture on March 19 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. in Room 252 of Candler’s Rita Anne Rollins Building. Townes will speak on “Colored Orneriness as Critical Companion in U.S. Democracy,” exploring what she calls “colored orneriness” as a moral ideal that can provide a critical prophetic lens for black communities and churches in the U.S. that suffer and resist relentless systemic oppression. The event is free and registration is required. Register here.
Townes is Dean and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt Divinity School, the first African American woman to hold the position of dean. Known as a pioneering scholar in womanist theology, she has a strong interest in thinking critically about womanist perspectives on issues such as health care, economic justice, poetry, and literary theory.
An ordained American Baptist clergywoman, Townes earned her DMin from the University of Chicago Divinity School and her PhD in Religion in Society and Personality from Northwestern University. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, Townes served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale University Divinity School, where she was the first African American and first woman to serve as associate dean for academic affairs.
Townes is the author of the groundbreaking book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2006). Other books include Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Care and A Womanist Ethic of Care (Continuum, 1998), In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness (Abingdon Press, 1995) and Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope (Scholars Press, 1993). She co-edited Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) with Katie Geneva Cannon and Angela D. Simms.
In 2005, Townes was the first African American woman elected to the presidential line of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and served as president in 2008. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in 2009. From 2012 to 2016, she served a four-year term as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion.
This annual lecture of Candler’s Black Church Studies Program is named for Anna Julia Cooper, one of the most influential black scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries. Born into slavery in 1858, Cooper graduated from Oberlin College and the Sorbonne, becoming the fourth African American woman in the U.S. to earn a PhD. She served as a public school teacher and principal in Washington, D.C. for more than 30 years, and remained a prominent educator, activist, and author until her death at age 105.