Mark D. Jordan Named as First Niebuhr Professor of Divinity

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Mark D. Jordan, a renowned and wide-ranging scholar whose academic interests include the varieties of theological rhetoric, the performance of religious identities, Christian teachings on sex, and the work of Thomas Aquinas, has been appointed as the first Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. He will take up the new post in January 2009, moving to Harvard from Emory University, where he has been Asa Griggs Candler Professor since 1999.

"Mark Jordan is both a distinguished Christian ethicist and a widely recognized authority on Aquinas, but equally important he has an outstanding reputation as a gifted and dedicated teacher and mentor," said Dean William A. Graham in announcing the appointment this week. "Thus, he is an exceptionally fine inaugural incumbent of the Niebuhr chair, given its focus on Christian values and morality in their social context."

The Niebuhr chair was made possible by a 2006 gift from HDS alumnus Thomas M. Chappell, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tom's of Maine. The new professorship was named to honor Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus Richard Niebuhr, and intended, in the tradition of Niebuhr's work, to address issues of Christian morality, ethics, and values in the contemporary interaction of religion and society.

With a strong background in medieval theology and textual studies, Jordan has in recent years focused on the field of sexual ethics, producing books that are widely regarded to have opened important new avenues of discourse, especially in regard to homosexuality and to ethical reflection on marriage. These books include The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago 1997), The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (Chicago 2000), The Ethics of Sex (Blackwell 2001), Telling Truths in Church (Beacon 2002), Blessing Same-Sex Unions (Chicago 2005), and Authorizing Marriage? Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions (Princeton 2006).

"I am delighted, and honored, by this appointment to the Niebuhr chair," Jordan said. "The gift establishing the chair recognizes many ideals that I also affirm: the challenge for religious ethics in imagining new forms of life, the promise of theological writing, and the quiet importance of teaching. I look forward to joining many others at the Divinity School who have long been thinking about these questions—not least in regard to religious controversies around gender and sexuality."

At the same time that he has become a pioneer in sexual ethics, Jordan has remained interested in, and committed to, his early scholarly focus, the work of Aquinas, and he has done so in a way that deeply informs his treatment of contemporary issues. One of his most recent books is Rewritten Theology: Aquinas After His Readers (Blackwell 2005). One of his first books was Ordering Wisdom: The Hierarchy of Philosophical Discourses in Aquinas (Notre Dame 1986).

Before coming to Emory, where he has also served as director of the Program in Comparative Literature and Religion and as chair of the Committee on LGBT Studies, Jordan taught for many years at the University of Notre Dame. He was educated at St. John's College (in Annapolis and Santa Fe), the Universidad de Granada, and the University of Texas, where he received a doctorate in philosophy in 1977.

The creation of the Richard R. Niebuhr Professorship of Divinity was announced in 2006, to honor Richard Niebuhr, one of Harvard Divinity School's most distinguished faculty members, whose writing and teaching centered on the moral nature and symbolic character of perception, and on the relation of theology to cultural symbolization.

"For me the realm of values and ethics was introduced systematically with Richard Niebuhr's courses," Chappell, who received a master of theological studies degree from HDS in 1991, recalled at the time of his gift. "It is a great joy to be able to help the School in the teaching of values and ethics, an area where there's a tremendous need. With this gift I am honoring Dick Niebuhr, but I'm also finding a practical way to present the utility of Dick's teaching."

In addition to founding Tom's of Maine, one of the nation's leading producers of personal-care products, with his wife, Kate, Chappell is also founder of the Saltwater Institute, a nonprofit organization offering leadership development programs, and the author of the books The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good and Managing Upside Down: Seven Intentions of Values-Centered Leadership. He is a member of the Harvard Committee on University Resources and HDS's Dean's Council. He also serves on the Board of Fellows at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Chappell's gift of more than $3 million is being augmented by $1 million from Harvard University's Professorship Challenge Fund, a $50 million initiative established in 2006 to encourage the support of faculty in key areas.