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Assoc. Prof. M. Shawn Copeland (Theology): “For others to say your
work is meaningful and reaches people is humbling.” (Photo by Gary

Distinguished Scholar Honor Awarded to Boston College Theologian

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By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff
Published: December 17, 2009
It’s been quite a successful year for Associate Professor of Theology M. Shawn Copeland, who in 2009 has earned a coveted award, published two books and edited a third.

Copeland, who teaches systematic theology and holds an appointment in the African and African Diaspora Studies Program, is known for her research and teaching on theological anthropology and political theology as well as African and African-derived religious and cultural experience.

Last month, Copeland received the Distinguished Scholar Award from The Black Religious Scholars Group (BRSG) at its annual meeting in Montreal. She was one of only two scholars honored this year by BRSG, which is noted for making connections between black scholars of religion and theology and members of black churches.

“I was very touched, very moved,” said Copeland about receiving the award. “You do your work so God will be glorified. For others to say your work is meaningful and reaches people is humbling.”

“The Black Religious Scholars Group is one of the consultations of the American Academy of Religion, the largest professional organization of scholars in religion, religious studies and theology in the US,” said School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor Francine Cardman.

“The significance of Shawn’s honor is in both the recognition of her scholarly achievement and commitment and in the recognition of black Catholics, who are often overlooked within the Catholic Church in the US and among traditionally black churches which are Protestant.”

Adds Margaret O’Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology Roberto S. Goizueta, “This much-deserved award is a testament to Shawn
Copeland’s exceptional leadership in the Church and the academy. The recognition of a preeminent black Catholic scholar by such a prestigious interdenominational group is also noteworthy because it highlights the extraordinary spiritual and intellectual contributions
of black Catholicism.”

This year saw Copeland publish The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette Delille. The book’s subject, Henriette Delille, a
free woman of color who rejected societal norms of the times and founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842, is a familiar one to
Copeland. She served on a tribunal convened by former Archbishop of New Orleans Alfred Hughes to consider Delille for canonization.

Copeland also authored Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, which was released this year, as was Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, for which she served as principal editor and a contributor.

Copeland was the first African-American to serve as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a past convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium. She also is an adjunct associate professor of systematic theology at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.

“Some scholars only like to move in the scholarly world,” said Copeland, “but theologians ought to be interested in the concerns of
ordinary people.”