Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished scholar of race and religion, among new faculty joining Vanderbilt

(l-r) Michael Eric Dyson, Major Jackson, and Shatema Threadcraft

Michael Eric Dyson, a globally renowned scholar of race, religion and contemporary culture, will join Vanderbilt as Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Science and University Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society in the Divinity School on Jan. 1, 2021.

Currently a professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Dyson also is a prominent commentator across several national media outlets and a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times. In addition, he serves as contributing editor at The New Republic and The Undefeated, a website from ESPN.

“I look forward to joining the vibrant and collaborative Vanderbilt community at a pivotal time when, as scholars and engaged citizens, we can make a significant impact on the future of our nation,” Dyson said.

In addition to Dyson, Major Jackson, an accomplished poet and essayist who has spent the past 18 years at the University of Vermont, and Shatema Threadcraft, an award-winning author and associate professor at Dartmouth College, will join the Vanderbilt faculty in January 2021.

“We are in a fortunate position to be able to attract some of the world’s most renowned scholars who offer vital and inspiring additions to our community,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “True to our university’s mission, they all have a proven ability to empower students and transform lives through dialogue, analysis and new modes of inquiry.”

Dyson’s extensive scholarship has spanned a wide range of topics including race, religion, politics, hip-hop, popular culture and contemporary issues in the African American community. He is a noted author of more than 20 books, including the forthcoming Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America and the 2017 bestseller Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. In addition, he has received two NAACP Image Awards and an American Book Award, the latter of which he received for the 2007 title Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. Dyson’s other publications have explored a range of iconic American figures and themes, from the politics of race during the Obama presidency to the legacy of rapper Tupac Shakur among African American youth.

A native of Detroit, Dyson earned a Ph.D. in religion from Princeton University. Throughout his career, he has held teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, the Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

As an ordained Baptist minister, Dyson also holds a long-standing interest in theology. Emilie Townes, dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School, said that this part of his background grants him a “unique and holistic approach to questions of spirituality, individuality and social justice in the modern era.”

Jackson’s work includes five volumes of poetry: The Absurd Man (2020), Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) [all published by W.W. Norton & Co.] and Leaving Saturn  (2002, University of Georgia Press), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. He also edited the annual anthology Best American Poetry 2019. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and Ploughshares, and he has received awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and the Library of Congress. Jackson holds a master of fine arts from the University of Oregon. He joins Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science as Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English.

Threadcraft, who earned her Ph.D. from Yale University in political science in 2010 and a master of science in philosophy, policy and social value from the London School of Economics, is the author of Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic (2016, Oxford University Press). She joins the Vanderbilt Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies in the College of Arts and Science as associate professor.

“Each of these scholars brings a unique approach to learning and discovery that truly crosses disciplines,” said Susan R. Wente, provost, vice chancellor for academic affairs, and holder of a Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair. “Together with our current faculty, these new views will support strategic efforts to build further our One Vanderbilt culture, and as we all work together, and across academic departments, to make the broadest possible impact.”

“Through their groundbreaking work and active participation in society’s broader dialogue, these scholars represent some of today’s most influential voices,” said John Geer, the Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science. “Their arrival at Vanderbilt will allow our students to engage with, and take cues from, true visionaries at a moment when their insights are more timely and resonant than ever before.”

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