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Emerson Chair Inaugural Lecture Will Address Liberal Theory of Institutions
Emerson Chair Inaugural Lecture Will Address Liberal Theory of Institutions

On Thursday, May 7th, 2009, at 5:15 p.m. in the Sperry Room at Harvard Divinity School, Professor Dan McKanan will deliver the inaugural Emerson Lecture as the first Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity.

Entitled "Unless a Seed Falls: Cultivating Liberal Institutions," McKanan’s talk will explore the reflections of Elizabeth Peabody, Adin Ballou, John Haynes Holmes, and Mary White Ovington as inspirations for a liberal theory of institutions. "For at least two centuries, religious liberals have been troubled by institutions," remarks McKanan. "At the same time, liberal women and men yearn for emotionally sustaining communities and for traditions that will hand liberal values on to their children."

The lecture is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to rsvp to hdsevents [at] hds [dot] harvard [dot] edu by May 2nd. The Sperry Room is located in Harvard Divinity School’s Andover Hall at 45 Francis Ave. in Cambridge, MA. Seating will be limited. Harvard Divinity School is accessible by public transportation and metered parking is available in the neighborhood (see detailed directions). The lecture will be followed by a reception in the Braun Room, also in Andover Hall.

McKanan, who arrived at Harvard Divinity School in July 2008, is the first Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity, holding a professorship established by generous Unitarian Universalist individuals and organizations to further the academic study of Unitarian Universalism. This professorship honors Ralph Waldo Emerson, an alum of Harvard Divinity School, his Unitarian ministry, and his enduring influence on Unitarian Universalism.

McKanan graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1989. He earned a Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1993 and a PhD in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago in 1998. The author of several books, including Identifying the Image of God: Radical Christians and Nonviolent Power in the Antebellum Period, he is currently writing Prophetic Encounters: The Religious Left in American History, to be published by Beacon Press.

The Emerson professorship was made possible by generous donations from Unitarian Universalists W. Lowell and Janice Steinbrenner and the late Rev. Dr. J. Frank Schulman and his wife Alice, and by funds from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, on Long Island, NY (formerly the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society), the Liberal Religious Charitable Society, and other individuals and organizations.

For more information about the professorship, see “Harvard Announces Professorship in Unitarian Universalist Studies” (, May 2006) and “Harvard Announces First Appointment to Emerson UUA Chair of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School” (, April 2008).


Shelby Meyerhoff
Public Witness Specialist
Unitarian Universalist Association
Boston, MA
(617) 948-6103
pw_specialist [at] uua [dot] org

Dan McKanan
Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer in Divinity
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA
(617) 496-2665
dmckanan [at] hds [dot] harvard [dot] edu

Jonathan Beasley
Communications Officer
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA
(617) 496-6004
jbeasley [at] hds [dot] harvard [dot] edu

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a faith community of more than 1,000 self-governing congregations that bring to the world a vision of religious freedom, tolerance and social justice. More information is available in our UUA media kit.

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