Coffee with Emilie Townes

EmilieTownes3Dr. Emilie Maureen Townes has been the Dean at Vanderbilt University Divinity School since 2013. She came directly from Yale Divinity School where she was the Professor of African-American religion and theology and associate dean of academic affairs. I’m looking forward to hearing Dr. Townes in person July 7th-10th at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC where I am sure she will be on the main stage.RSS Pointer

EmilieTownes5Dr. Townes describes herself as a womanist ethicist. She explains some of what is packed into each word “womanist” and “ethicist” in the interview. She goes into even more detail in the Channel 5 Youtube video linked below.

This interview reminded me how important it is that we do not oversimplify any one person. Sometimes we overcomplicate. It calls to mind some of the work of professor George Lakoff which hypothesizes that our minds are literally wired with narratives which we subconsciously attempt to place everyone we meet into – such as the gold digger or starving artist, etc.  Nobody, however, is aptly captured by one narrative theme nor even a couple categories.WildGooseFestival

Dr. Townes and I briefly discussed a few of the many influencers upon her being – her grandmother’s moral lessons, molecular biologist mother, and a core of pioneering black female academics – Dr. Katie Geneva CannonDelores S. WilliamsDr. Jacquelyn Grant and Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes. Dr. Townes is also a Baptist, a lesbian, a sister, and a wife. And whether her life were less public or not I’m confident that the micro aggressions she describes experiencing everyday would still take place, if not in their present form, in others.

In the days after interviewing Dr. Townes I spoke with another womanist theologian, Lacette Cross, at my own seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary, who graduated a few hours ago as I type these words. I’m grateful that if I look for progress I can find it. It is unfortunate, however, that the progress is still noteworthy.

EmilieTownes2Emilie Townes, Katie Cannon, Jacqui Lewis, Lacette Cross, Lana Heath de Martinez, Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock, Ashley Mejias, Stephanie Spellers, Alexia Salvatierra, Jennifer Bailey, Cathy Knight, Paula Stone Williams, Jocelyn Blount, Phoebe Roaf, Cheryl Douglas-Walker, and Ashlee Murphy, thank you for all of your work, love and accomplishment. You are indeed a part of a very great cloud of witnesses.


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Vanderbilt University Divinity School

Chronicles of Higher Education Feb. 25, 2013 article Yale Theologian Is Drawn to Lead a Divinity School With a Progressive Edge

Channel 5 Nashville Interview on Youtube

Dr. Townes contributions to the Huffington Post including Gay Marriage and Religion: What Marriage Means to Me

Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon

Delores S. Williams

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Dr. Jacquelyn Grant

Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (Library of Theological Ethics) edited by Katie Cannon, Emilie Townes and Angela Sims

Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care by Emilie Townes

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