Two Nigerian Professors Elected Into The American Academy of Arts and Science

Two Nigerian professors have been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Science. They are Professor Jacob K. Olupona of the Harvard Divinity School and Dr. Muhammed Pate of Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Pate, who was Nigeria’s former Minister of State for Health, is a Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard University. He once served as the Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population as well as Director of the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents, GFF, at the World Bank.

Olupona, a professor of African Religious Traditions as well as African and African- American Studies, was elected under the category of the study of religion.

In her congratulatory message to Olupona, Claudine Gay, Harvard’s  Edgerley Family Dean  of the Faculty of Arts and Science  said the honour, which was richly deserved,  was in recognition of his outstanding contributions to his discipline and to society at large.

“This is a singular honor in recognition of your outstanding contributions to your discipline and to society at large, and one that is richly deserved. With a history dating back to its establishment by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and others, the Academy has a long and illustrious tradition of projects and studies that advance the public good.

“I am sure that with you as one of its new members the American Academy will continue in the best way possible its research on the emerging problems that face our society today.

“Although those challenges are perhaps somewhat different from those addressed by the 18th-century founders, I know that you will bring to your membership the same penetrating independent insight and analysis those scholars epitomized and envisioned many years ago,” Gay wrote.

Olupona, who joined the Faculty of Divinity and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2006, is a noted scholar of indigenous African religions. He was educated at the University of Nigeria and Boston University, where he had his M.A  and PhD.

His current research focuses on the religious practices of the estimated one million Africans who have emigrated to the United States over the last 40 years, examining in particular several populations that remain relatively invisible in the American religious landscape: “reverse missionaries” who have come to the United States to establish churches, African Pentecostals in American congregations, American branches of independent African churches, and indigenous African religious communities in the United States.

His earlier research ranged across African spirituality and ritual practices, spirit possession, Pentecostalism, Yoruba festivals, animal symbolism, icons, phenomenology, and religious pluralism in Africa and the Americas.

In his book, “City of 201 Gods: Ilé-Ifè in Time, Space, and the Imagination”, he examines the modern urban mixing of ritual, royalty, gender, class, and power, and how the structure, content, and meaning of religious beliefs and practices permeate daily life.

His other books include “Òrìsà Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture”, co-edited with Terry Rey, and “Kingship, Religion, and Rituals in a Nigerian Community: A Phenomenological Study of Ondo Yoruba Festivals”, which has become a model for ethnographic research among Yoruba-speaking communities. In 2012, he was named one of Harvard’s Walter Channing Cabot Fellows, for distinguished publications.

Olupona has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Ford Foundation, the Davis Humanities Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Getty Foundation.

He has served on the editorial boards of three influential journals and as president of the African Association for the Study of Religion.

In 2000, Olupona received an honorary doctorate in divinity from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and in 2007 he received the Nigerian National Order of Merit, Nigeria’s  prestigious award given each year for intellectual accomplishment in the four areas of science, medicine, engineering/technology, and humanities. In 2018 he received the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Pate, on his part, was educated at the Ahmadu Bello University, Duke University and University College London. His appointment as a Minister of State for Health in July 2011 followed his role  as the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Abuja. He resigned his ministerial position in 24 July 2013 to take up the position of Professor in Duke University’s Global Health Institute,

On Tuesday, 11 October 2022, Pate, alongside  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr  Amina J. Mohammed were conferred with Nigeria’s national honours. Pate was conferred with Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Earlier in 2019, Pate was appointed Julio Frenk Professor of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

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