May 9, 2014: Dean Margaret M. Mitchell has announced that, upon recommendation from the Divinity School's Alumni Council, the Board of Trustees of the Baptist Theological Union has named Laurie L. Patton (AM 1986, PhD 1991 in the History of Religions area) as the Divinity School's Alumna of the Year for 2015.
Dean of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University, the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, and Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Patton is an accomplished scholar and the author or editor of eight books on South Asian history, culture and religion. In addition to two monographs on early Indian mythology and ritual, she has published two books of poetry, Fire’s Goal: Poems from a Hindu Year (2003) and Angel’s Task (2011). She also translated the classical Sanskrit text The Bhagavad Gita (2008) for the Penguin Classics Series. In 1996 she coedited Myth and Method with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions.
Dean Patton has lectured widely on interfaith issues and religion and public life, and consulted with White House offices on faith-based initiatives as well as on civic engagement. In her capacity as a scholar of culture and society she has also worked as a consultant on branding and identity for several national and international corporations.
Of the award, Dean Mitchell said “Dean Laurie Patton exemplifies the best of the University of Chicago Divinity School. While producing field-defining scholarship on Hinduism, and the Vedic traditions in particular, she has provided outstanding educational leadership at Duke, and before that at Emory, insisting on the highest academic standards and articulating the power and depth of the humanistic disciplines within the research University and broader society.”
Previously the Charles Howard Candler professor of religions and inaugural director of Emory University’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in the office of the Provost, Patton served as chair of the religion department from 2000-07, founded and co-convened the Religions and the Human Spirit Strategic Plan, and received the Emory Williams Award—Emory’s most prestigious honor for teaching—in 2005.
During her first three years at Duke, Patton developed the first university-wide course, with her Arts & Sciences team sponsored the creation of the first and only global advising program in the country, and launched Scholars & Publics, a forum for scholars to engage in research in partnership with the community. In addition, she has established a grant fund to encourage collaboration and course development by faculty and initiated hiring strategies for women and underrepresented minorities in the STEM fields. Last year she established and helped to design the “Language Arts and Media Program” (LAMP), an undergraduate program in effective communication in contemporary media (on-line, in person, in writing). She also sponsored a new online “My Advising Network,” a program that allows Duke undergraduates to see, develop, manage, and contact their advising network at Duke. Finally, she created a Less Commonly Taught Languages on-line partnership with the University of Virginia and created an Advising Task Force to launch key reforms for pre-major and major advising.
On November 18, 2014, Middlebury College announced that it had chosen Dean Patton to become its 17th president. In its announcement, the search committee said that she distinguished herself from “all of the other candidates in five respects: her intellectual curiosity, recognition as a scholar, commitment to the liberal arts, administrative experience, and alignment with Middlebury’s values.” Middlebury’s Trustees voted unanimously in support of her appointment to the presidency, which she will assume on July 1, 2015.