Nigerian professor, Jacob Olupona, elected into American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Professor Jacob K. Olupona

By Seyi Gesinde

A Nigerian scholar, Professor Jacob K. Olupona, has been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Olupona, a Professor of African Religious Traditions at the Harvard Divinity School, is among the 269 newly announced Academy fellows revealed by the institution.

The announcement was made on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, by Academy President David W. Oxtoby and Chair of the Board of Directors Nancy C. Andrews.

The Academy announced that 269 excellent individuals have been elected to the Academy in 2023.

The announcement of the new members listed on the Academy website is the continuation of the celebration of the excellence of the institution which began over 240 years ago.

According to the institution, “This year’s election of new members to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences maintains a commitment to honouring excellence that began more than 240 years ago.

“In 1780, the Academy’s founders – including John Adams and John Hancock – envisioned an organization that would recognize accomplished individuals and engage them in addressing the greatest challenges facing the young nation. The first members elected to the Academy in 1781 included Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.”

“Today, the Academy continues to be both an honorary society, electing new members from the non-profit, private, and public sectors, and an independent policy organization with initiatives in the arts, democracy, education, global affairs, and science,” the Academy said.

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When announcing this year’s new members, Academy President David W. Oxtoby said, “With the election of these members, the Academy is honouring excellence, innovation, and leadership and recognizing a broad array of stellar accomplishments. We hope every new member celebrates this achievement and joins our work advancing the common good.”

About Professor Jacob K. Olupona

Professor Jacob K. Olupona was elected in the field of religious studies. He is a Professor of African Religious Traditions, with a joint appointment as a Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Olupona bagged his Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from the University of Nigeria, also holds MA and PhD, from Boston University in the United States.

Jacob K. Olupona, who joined the Faculty of Divinity and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2006, is a noted scholar of indigenous African religions.

Currently, his 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, that country’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.