David N. Hempton, a renowned social historian of religion with particular expertise in populist traditions of evangelicalism in Europe and North America, has been named as the first Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. Currently a university professor and professor of the history of Christianity at Boston University, he will join Harvard’s Faculty of Divinity in January 2007 and begin his teaching at the Divinity School (HDS) in September 2007.
“David Hempton’s appointment is an important milestone for HDS,” said Dean William A. Graham in announcing the appointment. “Going forward, we shall now have the collegial presence and gifted teaching of a noted historian of Methodism and evangelical pietism in Britain, Ireland, and North America. His grasp of the present-day, as well as historical, trajectories of evangelical Christianity will greatly enrich our curriculum and our students’ opportunities for mentoring in these areas. We are excited to have him join us.”
The McDonald family chair was first endowed by Alonzo L. McDonald, Harvard M.B.A. ’56 and a member of the HDS Dean’s Council, as a visiting professorship in 1996, and then was funded as a full professorship in May 2004. Confirming the chair in 2004, McDonald, a business leader who was also a member of the administration of President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, said of his gift: “I hope it will help students as they prepare for service in theological and social arenas and expand their understanding about one of the major traditions of Christianity that has represented the central stream of beliefs for multiple denominations.”
Hempton’s research and teaching interests range across religion and political culture, identity and ethnic conflict, the interdisciplinary study of lived religion, comparative secularization in Europe and North America, the history and theology of evangelical Protestantism, and the rise of the holiness traditions. Reacting to his Harvard appointment, he said: “The evangelical tradition, broadly conceived, has grown from inauspicious beginnings in the early 18th century, when it was regarded as the weak-minded religion of the enthusiastic rabble, to the self-designated faith tradition of over a quarter of all Americans and countless millions around the world. As the McDonald Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies, my aim is to stimulate interest, research, and serious scholarship in this tradition within the Harvard community and beyond. I shall work collegially and purposefully to bring the study of evangelicalism into a much larger conversation about the nature and function of religion in past and present societies.”
Before joining the Boston University faculty in 1998, Hempton was the professor of modern history and director of the school of history at Queen’s University of Belfast, where he had taught since 1979. (He received a B.A. degree from Queen’s in 1974, and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews in 1977.) He is the author of many articles and books, including “Methodism: Empire of the Spirit” (Yale, 2005), winner of the Jesse Lee Prize; “Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland” (Cambridge, 1996); “The Religion of the People” (Routledge, 1996); “Evangelical Protestantism in Ulster Society 1740-1890” (Routledge, 1992); and “Methodism and Politics in British Society 1750-1850” (Stanford, 1984), winner of the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society.
He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and in recent years delivered the F.D. Maurice Lectures at King’s College London and was Boston University’s scholar/teacher of the year. He is currently working on a book about evangelical disenchantment narratives and on a global history of Christianity in the early modern period.