Rev. Yolanda Pierce, dean of Howard Div., to talk justice work through faith

A speaker, professor, mentor, preacher, writer and cable news commentator, the Rev. Yolanda Pierce, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and professor of Religion and Literature and Womanist Theology, works at the intersection of race, religion, gender and justice.

Pierce will give her lecture, titled “A Grammar for Racial Justice: How Religious Talk Can Save the World,” at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in the Hall of Philosophy for Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future: In Partnership with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

Pierce is dedicated to relieving any division created between the pulpit, or lectern, and the people; she feels as though teaching is meaningful only when it improves people’s daily lives. When Pierce leads people in dialogue, her goals are clear. 

“I am not interested in most conversations about equality,” Pierce wrote on her website. “I am, however, interested in the weightier matters of law: justice and freedom. How can we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly?”

Pierce is the first woman to lead  Howard University’s Divinity School. In February 2021, she released her book In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith and the Stories We Inherit, which chronicles the history of theology before it was consistently defined as theology. 

“If the only theology we have is (Martin) Luther or (John) Calvin, then we’re missing how God moves in a world for a group of people who don’t know Luther or Calvin, will never read (their) work nor are interested in the 1500s in which they lived,” Pierce told Religion News Service in February 2021. “So I’m really trying to shift the discourse about who can do theology and what counts as theological source material.”

Pierce is an esteemed scholar of both African American religious history and womanist theology, which approaches theology by focusing on the Black female perspective. She has been published in academic journals for which she has authored over 50 essays centered on the interaction between race, faith and gender. But, she said her grandmother supplied her with expectations for the future of the Black church. 

In the preface of her book Pierce refers to “grandmother theology,” which she defines as the thought and faith systems of generations who came before her parents. This was done in an effort to broaden the boundaries of womanist theology.

“It is to refer to the grandmothers, aunties, the other mothers, the nonbiological connections women have and to really expand the category of womanist theology,” Pierce told Religion News Service, “so the words and the thoughts of grandmothers and church mothers and other mothers are a part of the conversation.”

Pierce is working toward dismantling the patriarchy of the church. She identifies as Pentecostal and said she grew up in a tradition where women believed living a modest and holy life, including dressing modestly, were required to attain salvation. This concept of modesty has been a struggle for Pierce to separate from her understanding of godliness. 

“For me, it has been a challenge to tear apart the question of legalism from the question of holiness, to maintain the beauty of holiness but for it not to be caught up in the legalism of patriarchy,” Pierce told Religion News Service.

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The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.