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Phillis Isabella Sheppard

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair of Religion, Psychology, and Culture
Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture and Womanist Thought
Executive Director of the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements

Dr. Phillis Isabella Sheppard is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion and Graduate Department of Religion, the first African American woman to be promoted to full professor at the Divinity School and the inaugural Executive Director of the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements at Vanderbilt University. Previously she served as Interim Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the Divinity School. 

Prior to joining the Vanderbilt faculty, she was Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Psychology at Boston University School of Theology where she was co-director of the Center for Practical Theology, and the former Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at North Park University Theological Seminary where she was the first African American woman to serve on the faculty and the first to earn tenure.  She holds the Ph.D. from Chicago Theological Seminary in Theology, Ethics and the Human Sciences, the M.A. in Theology from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and earned a certificate from the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis in Adult Psychoanalysis. She is an ordained priest (ARCWP), a commissioned Community Chaplain in the Upper Room, an Inclusive Catholic Community, and holds a deep appreciation for the multiple spaces where one may experience the sacred.

Her research interests are concerned with the relationship between interiority and social processes, and interdisciplinary approaches to lived religion. A womanist practical theologian and psychoanalyst, she privileges narrative and interdisciplinary reflection, and relies on ethnography as a critical method. Theologically, is concerned with anthropology, incarnation, embodiment, and ritual. Sheppard is the author of two books. Her first, “Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology” considers Black women’s lived experience through a womanist informed psychoanalytic perspective and cultural analysis. Her second book, “Tilling Sacred Ground: Interiority, Black Women, and Religious Experience” examines religious experience and its intertwinement with interiority in social spaces and processes. Her work consistently elucidates the complex negotiation of race, gender, and sexuality in private and public spaces. Her third book, in process, “Poking and Prodding with a Purpose: Womanist Ethnography in Theory and Method” centers Black women’s narratives in the elaboration of womanist ethnographic approaches. Her research has been funded by the Randall Mason Research Award and by the Louisville Institute.

Dr. Sheppard is the founder of the Womanist Ethnography Conference, an annual event which brings together womanist researchers and community members to advance the theory, method, and practice. She publishes widely on womanist perspectives on culture and lived religion, pastoral ethics, practical theology, gender and sexuality, and the spiritual dimensions of activism. Interwoven throughout her work is a psychoanalytic lens on the dynamics of self and society. She is a sought-after lecturer, social change consultant, and process facilitator. In 2022, she received the Distinguished Educator Award from the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education, and is the founder of Set a Spell: Womanist Spaces for Transformative Care

Selected Publications

Tilling Sacred Grounds: Black Women’s Experience of ReligionNew York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, Lexington Books Series Emerging Perspectives in Pastoral Theology and Care, (2022).

Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan Press, 2011.

2022 “Reclaiming Incarnation in Black Life: Black Bodies and Healing Practices in Womanist Pastoral Care,” Journal of Pastoral Theology, accepted for publication, Fall, 2022.

2021 “Navigating Deep Waters: Spirituality and Religion in the Psychodynamic Space.” In Spiritual Diversity and Psychotherapy, (Ed.) Steven J. Sandage, Brad D. Strawn. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2018 “Womanist Pastoral Theology and Black Women’s Experience of Religion & Sexuality.” In Pastoral theology and Care: Critical Trajectories in Theory and Practice, (Ed.) Nancy Ramsey. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Press, 125-147.

2018 “Hegemonic Imagination, Historical Ethos, and Colonized Minds in the Pedagogical Space,” Journal of Pastoral Theology 27.3, 181-194.

2016 “Raced Bodies: Portraying Bodies, Reifying Racism.” In Conundrums in Practical Theology, (Eds.) Bonnie Miller-McLemore and Joyce Mercer. Leiden, South Holland: Brill, 219-249.