Harvard Divinity School (HDS) has announced the creation of the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professorship of Divinity, which is made possible by a gift from alumnus Thomas M. Chappell. A 1991 graduate of the School, Chappell is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Tom’s of Maine, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of natural personal care products.
The person who occupies the Niebuhr chair will address issues of Christian morality, ethics, and values in the contemporary interaction of religion and society. The position is named in honor of one of the School’s most distinguished faculty members, who was Hollis Professor of Divinity from 1981 to 1999 and is currently an emeritus professor. Richard Niebuhr’s writing and teaching has centered on the moral nature and symbolic character of perception, and on the relation of theology to cultural symbolization. A graduate of Harvard College, he also holds a B.D. from Union Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Yale University. He is an ordained Congregational minister.
“For me the realm of values and ethics was introduced systematically with Richard Niebuhr’s courses,” Chappell recalled. “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 1970 Chappell and his wife, Kate, founded Tom’s of Maine, which went on to introduce several environmentally friendly products, including the first non-phosphate liquid laundry detergent and the first natural toothpaste. Earlier this year, Tom’s of Maine was acquired by the Colgate-Palmolive Company, but the Chappells retain a minority ownership in the company.
Tom 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 received the master of theological studies degree from HDS in 1991, and is currently a member of the Harvard Committee on University Resources and the dean’s council at HDS and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
“Our society has great need for reflective scholars of the stature and influence of Dick Niebuhr and for reflective students of the stature and influence of Tom Chappell,” associate dean for academic affairs Mark U. Edwards Jr. said. “With this generous gift – honoring one of the great HDS faculty of the second half of the 20th century – Tom Chappell ensures that a leading scholar of the 21st century will guide future HDS students into meaningful and engaged reflection on issues of contemporary Christian morality, ethics, and values within a religiously diverse world.”
Chappell’s gift of more than $3 million will be augmented by $1 million from the University’s Professorship Challenge Fund, a $50 million initiative established earlier this year to encourage the support of faculty in key areas.
A search committee for the inaugural Niebuhr Professor will be convened later this year, with an appointment targeted for the fall of 2007 or soon thereafter.