- Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office
President Drew Faust has announced that David N. Hempton, McDonald Family professor of Evangelical theological studies, will become the new dean of Harvard Divinity School, effective July 1. He succeeds William A. Graham, who announced in September that he would relinquish his post at the end of this academic year.
“David Hempton is an internationally recognized historian of Christianity with an exceptionally distinguished scholarly record,” Faust said in a press release announcing his appointment. “His broad-ranging interests in religion, political culture, identity, and ethnic conflict, and the history and theology of Evangelical Protestantism make him particularly well-suited to advance the understanding of religion at Harvard and in this religiously pluralistic world.”
A former professor of modern history at Queen’s University, Belfast, Hempton was previously University Professor and professor of Christianity at Boston University before arriving at Harvard in 2007; in 2008 he was named the Divinity School’s “Outstanding Teacher of the Year.” A scholar on global Christianity in the early modern period, he is at work on a comparative study of secularization in Europe and America from the eighteenth century to the present.
His books include Methodism and Politics in British Society (1984), which won the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society, Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland: From the Glorious Revolution to the Decline of Empire (1995), Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (2005), and Evangelical Disenchantment: Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt (2008).
He spoke to his publisher in September about the challenges he faced writing his most recent book, The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century (I.B. Tauris, 2011):
I started as a social historian of English religion, and thought I had made quantum leaps when I was part of a generation that envisaged first British Isles History and then transatlantic history. Writing this book persuaded me that those quantum leaps were smaller steps than I realized. There is no question that trying to write a global history of Christianity in the long eighteenth century within a defined word limit was one of the most difficult intellectual challenges I have ever faced.
Hempton has also served as an external consultant for the Open University and the BBC in the design of multimedia course offerings in the history of Christianity. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a former chairman of the Wiles Trust (founded in 1951 to promote innovative thinking on the history of civilization), he has been a visiting scholar at St. John’s College Oxford and has delivered the Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham (1994) and the F.D. Maurice Lectures at King’s College London (2000).
“I am grateful to President Faust for this opportunity, and I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve as the next dean of the Harvard Divinity School,” Hempton said in a press release. “I look forward to working with colleagues at the Divinity School to build on the progress made over the last decade in expanding and strengthening the faculty across a range of fields and broadening the scope of the education offered. I also welcome the opportunity to engage with colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and across the University to improve Harvard’s approach to the study of religion at the undergraduate and graduate levels and to enliven our engagement with religious and ethical questions more broadly.”