Paulsell Is First Swartz Professor

March 5, 2015
Professor Stephanie Paulsell
Professor Stephanie Paulsell / Photo: Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church

Harvard Divinity School today announced the appointment of the first Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies, a new chair that will be at the center of the School's work to educate the religious leaders of the future.

Dean David N. Hempton said that the Rev. Stephanie Paulsell, currently the Houghton Professor of the Practice of Ministry Studies at HDS, will be the first scholar to hold the chair.

"This new chair will do much to advance the School's role as a training ground for leaders of moral, ethical, and religious knowledge for the world," Hempton said. "Rev. Paulsell is at the forefront of a generation of clergy who are redefining ministry for the twenty-first century. She is also an outstanding scholar for whom the academic study of religion is in itself an act of devotion."

The new professorship is the latest example of the impact on HDS of the Susan Shallcross Swartz Endowment. Established by Ms. Swartz and her husband Jim in May 2012, the Swartz Endowment also supports student fellowships, programming, and conferences at HDS—as well as new opportunities for service and field education. The goal of the endowment is to extend the School's traditional preeminence in Christian studies, but also to support "moral and spiritual formation" for a broader secular audience. Ms. Swartz says that the new chair—and its first holder—meet both objectives.

"Stephanie Paulsell's teaching and research not only deepen students' understanding of Christianity, but also of the principles, ethics, faith, and reason that inspire people around the world," she says. "In that sense, this professorship is an investment in the School's history, but also in the innovation and creativity that make the future of HDS so exciting."

Paulsell, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), joined the HDS faculty in 2001 and was appointed to the Houghton chair in 2005. She has served as associate dean for ministry studies (2003-05) and also for faculty and curricular affairs (2007-08). Her scholarship focuses on the intersection of intellectual work and spiritual practice, and the integration of the academic study and practice of religion. The author of Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice and co-editor of The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher, Paulsell’s current research is on Virginia Woolf and religion. She said that she is "honored" to be the first holder of the Swartz Professorship in Christian Studies at HDS. 

"Susan Shallcross Swartz is an artist committed to the exploration of the intersections between art, religion, and human life, and I am in deep sympathy with her vision for this chair," Paulsell said. "I look forward to working with colleagues and students to imagine new avenues of study and service that might be opened by Susan and Jim Swartz's generous gift to our school."

Hempton called the Swartz gift "remarkable" and said that the new chair will enhance leadership education at HDS for many years to come.

"The Swartz Endowment has already enabled HDS to bring leaders like President Jimmy Carter to Harvard for conversations that shape the public dialogue on religion," he said. "In the decades ahead, this new professorship will provide support for the education of men and women who use religious resources to alleviate suffering and help people around the world lead richer, more meaningful lives."

—by Paul Massari