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Jonathan Walton Is New Assistant Professor of African American Religions
Social ethicist and African American religious studies scholar Jonathan Walton has been named Assistant Professor of African American Religions at Harvard Divinity School, effective July 1, 2010.
Walton is currently an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside. His research addresses the intersections among religion, politics, and popular culture.
"Harvard Divinity School is among the premier centers of theological education and hubs of academic inquiry," Walton said. "I am honored and humbled to join such an amazing scholarly community, particularly since HDS has a proven track record of neither resting on its reputation nor being lulled asleep by its laurels. Its continued commitment to recruiting and cultivating cutting-edge scholars of religion in general, and of American religion in particular, makes it the place I want to be."
Walton's scholarly work is grounded in the progressive strand of the African American religious tradition and informed by the creative potentiality and rhythmic sensibility of hip-hop culture. His first book, Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of African American Religious Broadcasting, is an important intervention into the study of African American and American religion. As he explains, those working on Christian religious broadcasting have given little attention to the phenomenon outside of white, conservative, evangelical communities, while black liberation theologians have yet to give careful attention to televisual representation as a site of theological production.
"Jonathan Walton thinks historically, ethically, and theologically," said Amy Hollywood, Elizabeth H. Monrad Professor of Christian Studies at HDS, who chaired the faculty search committee. "His intellectual range, his energy, and the interdisciplinary nature of his work on African American religions make him uniquely suited to HDS and to the University as a whole."
Drawing on British cultural studies, Walton explores the interrelationship between the media used by African American megachurches and the theologies thereby conveyed. He argues for forms of theological innovation within the productions of black televangelism that are enabled—perhaps even generated—by the media that televangalists use, and he asks what the implications are for black theology and the study of African American religion when one attends to these particular forms of religious and theological expression.
"He is an exciting young scholar whose field work with contemporary religious communities will bring an added dimension to our course offerings and faculty coverage here at HDS and at Harvard more broadly," said Dean William A. Graham. "I feel strongly that with this appointment, together with that of Mayra Rivera Rivera, Assistant Professor of Theology and Latina/o Studies, who will also begin her work at HDS on July 1, we are now well staffed in two important areas that we have wanted covered for some time."
Trained as a social ethicist, Walton earned his PhD in religion and society from Princeton Theological Seminary. He also holds a master of divinity degree from Princeton Seminary as well as a BA in political science from Morehouse College in Atlanta. His insights and reflections concerning the intersections of religion, culture, and society have been noted in numerous prominent news media outlets, such as CNN, The New York Times, Time magazine, and NPR.
"I look forward to this challenge," Walton said of his appointment to HDS, "Just as I look forward to contributing to the intellectual, spiritual, and familial climate on campus."