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Religion Expert Named African Studies Chief

By Andrew Okuyiga, Contributing Writer

A leading scholar in African religions has been tapped to chair the University’s Committee on African Studies.

Professor of African and African American Studies and African Religious Traditions Jacob K. Olupona will head the body comprised of 31 faculty members who oversee the research and study of African affairs.

In his new post, Olupona said he plans to launch a serious fundraising effort to propel the committee to being a leading center of African studies in the country.

Olupona said his appointment is “quite an honor... especially at this time when there are a lot of activities going on in Africa and Africa is facing a lot of challenges.”

Olupona, who assumed his post earlier this month, joined Harvard this July as a professor at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at the Divinity School. Previously, Olupona was a professor and the director of African-American studies at the University of California at Davis.

“[Olupona] brings a fresh new perspective,” said Evelyn B. Higginbotham, who chairs the Department of African and African American Studies.

Olupona, whose research has spanned from African ritual practices to animal symbolism, is now studying the wide array of religious practices of African immigrants in the United States over the past four decades.

The leadership transition comes as Harvard expands its African Studies faculty, with African drama expert Biodun Jeyifo and musicologist V. Kofi Agawu—along with Olupona—arriving in Cambridge earlier this fall. And an associate professor of African Studies, Caroline Elkins, raised the faculty’s profile even further last year when she won a Pulitzer Prize for her study of late colonial Kenya.

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