Dr. Yolanda Pierce will become dean of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, effective Jul. 1, pending board approval.
“During the search process, Yolanda Pierce stood out for her outstanding national leadership at the intersection of religion and public life,” said Dr. C. Cybele Raver, Vanderbilt provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Dean Pierce is not only an outstanding public leader, but also a deeply personal writer and scholar who will bring her profound insights to the role of faith and spirituality in society, particularly in the context of African American culture, to Vanderbilt Divinity School.”
A public theologian and leader on the role of religion in public life, Pierce is currently dean and professor of religion at the Howard University School of Divinity. She is the first woman in the role.
“Dean Pierce has been instrumental to a period of growth at Howard School of Divinity, and she is committed to helping our Divinity School flourish through cross-institutional and community partnerships while, at the same time, advancing the university’s commitment to belonging and inclusion,” Raver said.
Author of In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit and Hell Without Fires: Slavery, Christianity, and the Antebellum Spiritual Narrative, Pierce is founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life and was one of The Root 100 Most Influential African Americans in in 2015.
Pierce has previously been a tenured faculty member in English and African American studies at the University of Kentucky and associate professor of religion and literature and founding director of the Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary.
“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to become dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, an innovator in 21st-century theological education, and to work with dedicated faculty and staff in the preparation of outstanding ministers and scholars,” Pierce said. “I have long heard about the school’s rich history as an advocate for racial and social justice, and I look forward to building on the strong foundation that Emilie Townes and others have established to form this treasured community.”
She is also a member of organizations such as the American Academy of Religion; the Modern Language Association; the American Academy of Religion; and the American Historical Association.
Pierce holds a Ph.D. in religion and literature and an M.A. from Cornell University and a B.A. from Princeton University.