Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honors 2016

Aisha Beliso-De Jesús

Professor Aisha Beliso-De Jesús’s Electric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (Columbia University Press, 2015) won the 2016 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions. Given each year, the award goes to an academic book that exemplifies the ethos and mission of the Journal of Africana Religions, an interdisciplinary journal that publishes scholarship on African and African diasporic religious traditions. Drawing on eight years of ethnographic research, Beliso-De Jesús’ book examines the vibrant religious world of Santería practitioners—one shaped by the travel and the meeting of spirits, deities, priests, and practitioners across local and national boundaries.

Cynthia L. G. Kane, MDiv ’96

Cynthia L. G. Kane, MDiv ’96, lieutenant commander in the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy, is currently stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Newport News, VA. Her formal ministry has included posts as a hospital chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and ministry internships at the First Parishes in Concord and Bedford, MA. She was ordained by the latter in 1997. She was the first official chaplain at Ferry Beach, Saco, ME. After completing a CPE residency at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, HI, she was invited to serve as director of the Campus Ministry Program for Unitarian Universalist Students in the Joseph Priestly District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Commissioned to the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy in August 2001, she completed chaplain school in Newport, RI, and then reported to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head, MD, where she also was assigned to the USMC Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) and Arlington National Cemetery. A graduate of Tulane University and the University of San Diego, as well as HDS, she has received numerous awards, including the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. She served aboard USS John C. Stennis, Bremerton, WA, from 2004 to 2006, and was sent on individual augmentation to the Joint Task Force Command overseeing detainee operations in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2005–06. Her following tours were as deputy director, Spiritual Fitness Division, Navy Region Southwest, San Diego, CA, and then plank-owner command chaplain, USCG Sector Northern New England, Portland, ME.

Valarie K. Kaur, MTS ’07

Valarie K. Kaur, MTS ’07, is a lawyer, filmmaker, activist, entrepreneur, and Sikh thought leader. She has made awardwinning films and led national campaigns to advance progressive issues: racism and profiling, gun violence, immigration detention, solitary confinement, net neutrality, LGBTQ equality, and hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs. She is a regular television commentator on MSNBC and opinion contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hill, and The New York Times. She founded the Groundswell Movement of 200,000+ members, the largest multifaith online organizing community in the United States. A prolific public speaker, she has addressed audiences at the White House, the Pentagon, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and on more than 250 U.S. college campuses; she was the first Sikh to deliver Stanford’s baccalaureate commencement address and the College of St. Benedict’s commencement address. As a senior fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary, she often preaches on “revolutionary love” as a political and moral force that can dismantle structures of injustice. She has traveled with the U.S. State Department as a keynote speaker throughout Myanmar, aiding its transition from dictatorship into democracy. She has reported on the military commissions at Guantanamo and clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is also a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, where she founded the Yale Visual Law Project to train law students to make films that change policy. She is currently the Media and Justice Fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, where she co-founded Faithful Internet and advocates for Internet freedom.

Betsee Parker, MDiv ’85

Betsee Parker, MDiv ’85, is a philanthropist, Episcopal priest, international public health and civil rights advocate, preservationist, arts and education patron, and owner of several award-winning show horses. She is a leader of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a collaboration of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the United Nations Development Programme, and Millennium Promise to end extreme poverty throughout the world. At MVP, she has supported the creation and adoption of sustainable development models in Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Togo, and Sierra Leone, among other nations, and has helped improve the lives and health of thousands of people in Africa. Prior to joining MVP, she worked with first responders and pathologists as part of the recovery effort after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She also served as head chaplain of the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and as a leader of the multifaith chaplaincy team at Ground Zero. A longtime owner of show horses that compete at the highest levels, she has several times been named Owner of the Year by the United States Equestrian Foundation. She has been awarded honorary doctorates of humane letters from the State University of New York and from Niagara University. In addition to international development, her philanthropy extends to educational institutions, the arts, and youth in U.S. equestrian events, among other causes.

Alton B. Pollard III, MDiv ’81

Alton B. Pollard III, MDiv ’81, is Dean and Professor of Religion and Culture at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC. He also holds degrees from Fisk University (BA) and Duke University (PhD). His previous faculty appointments include St. Olaf College; Wake Forest University; Emory University, where he served as director of black church studies at Candler School of Theology and chair of American religious cultures in the Graduate Division of Religion; and various visiting lectureships throughout the United States and Africa. He is editor of The Black Church Studies Reader with Carol B. Duncan; author of Mysticism and Social Change; a new edition with introduction of W. E. B. DuBois, The Negro Church; and Helpers for a Healing Community: A Pastoral Care Manual for HIV/AIDS in Africa; editor of How Long This Road with L. Henry Whelchel; consulting editor for the multivolume Papers of Howard Thurman; and former associate editor of the journal Black Sacred Music. He is principal investigator for a Lilly-funded national research project, “Equipping the Saints: Promising Practices in Black Congregational Life.” An ordained Baptist minister, he has served congregations in Tennessee (AME), Massachusetts, and North Carolina.

Preston N. Williams, PhD ’67

Preston N. Williams, PhD ’67, who retired in June 2002, became Harvard Divinity School’s Houghton Professor of Theology and Contemporary Change in 1971. He has taught previously at four historically black colleges: Johnson C. Smith University, Knoxville College, North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and Lincoln University. He has served as associate chaplain at Pennsylvania State University and Protestant chaplain at Brandeis University. Prior to coming to Harvard Divinity School, he was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor at Boston University School of Theology. In his years at Harvard, he has served in various capacities beyond his professorial role: He was acting dean of the Divinity School in 1974–75, and the acting and first director of Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute from 1975 to 1977. He was president of the American Academy of Religion, 1975–76, and president of the Society for Christian Ethics, 1974–75. From 1998 to 2008 he was the director of the Summer Leadership Institute, a program that brought religious leaders from urban settings to Harvard for two weeks of intensive classes on community development. His fields of interest are Christian ethics, social and economic justice, human rights, and African American experience. He is an ordained Presbyterian USA minister.