Vanderbilt Divinity School to install Townes as 16th dean

Emilie Townes portrait
Emilie M. Townes (Vanderbilt/Daniel Dubois)

The Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes will be installed as the 16th dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School Aug. 23 at Benton Chapel.

The school’s opening convocation and installation service, which is open to the public, begins at 5 p.m. Watch it live at

Townes holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Womanist Ethics and Society. She came to Vanderbilt from Yale University, where she was a distinguished scholar and administrator. Among the installation speakers will be Harold W. Attridge, Yale University’s Sterling Professor of Divinity. He is the immediate past dean there and worked with Townes.

Vanderbilt administrators and faculty participating in the service include Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos; Richard McCarty, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs; Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of English; C. Melissa Snarr, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of ethics and society; and J. Mark Forrester, university chaplain and director of religious life.

“This worship service underscores transcendent themes that belong to each of us,” said Amy Elizabeth Steele, assistant dean for student life. “These include legacy, the continuation of an institution’s commitment to theological education toward justice, tradition, and the public acknowledgement of narratives and genealogies that tell a story much bigger than our own. Also important is faith — faith in the values that our ancestors bequeathed us and faith in a power that still sustains us. This celebration captures all that and more.”

The Temple Church Choir of Nashville, Tenn., which is directed by the Rev. Victor Wynn, will perform several musical selections. Wynn earned his master of theological studies and doctor of jurisprudence at Vanderbilt in 2002.

Also performing will be Dave Perkins, a Nashville singer-songwriter and associate director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture Program.

The organist will be Polly Brecht, adjunct artist teacher at the Blair School of Music.

Townes succeeds James Hudnut-Beumler, who is the Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History. Her installation address is titled “Launching Pad.”