Main content
Jonathan Strom named next dean of Candler School of Theology
Media Contact
Elaine Justice
Emory University Media Relations
Jonathan Strom profile photo

Succeeding Dean Jan Love on Aug. 1, 2024, Jonathan Strom will bring deep knowledge of Candler as a longtime faculty member and seasoned administrator committed to advancing the school’s vision and relationship with The United Methodist Church.

— Kay Hinton, Emory Photo/Video

Jonathan Strom, professor of church history at Emory University and a renowned theological scholar and respected leader, has been appointed the next Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean of Candler School of Theology. He will step into the role Aug. 1, 2024, after current dean Jan Love concludes her 17-year tenure.

“Since 1997, Jonathan Strom has contributed to Candler School of Theology in profound ways,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “He is respected for his research and teaching as well as his impressive leadership within Candler, which I witnessed firsthand during his time as acting dean. He is poised to carry the torch from Dean Love and keep Candler on its extraordinary trajectory.”

Strom’s two-year appointment was announced June 25, 2024, by Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, following a national search launched after Love’s previously announced plans to step down and return to the faculty.

“Following Dean Love’s incredible term of almost 18 years, we believe Jonathan Strom is the right person to enable Candler to continue fully pursuing the many ambitious efforts underway,” says Bellamkonda. “He has been a longtime leader within the school, including acting as dean from 2019 to 2021 while Dean Love served as interim provost, and has the deep knowledge and support of the Candler community that will serve Emory well as he takes on the full leadership role of the dean.”

As dean, Strom will focus on efforts that advance Candler’s mission to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries worldwide. He will drive initiatives to further the school’s academic impact, develop innovative offerings, support faculty in their scholarship, increase enrollment and student support and nurture the school’s vital ties with The United Methodist Church (UMC) as one of its 13 seminaries.

“Not only a leader at Emory, Jonathan is also well known nationally and internationally among theological educators,” says UMC Bishop William T. McAlilly 81T, a member of the Candler dean search advisory committee. “As a faithful Christian and very active layperson in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — with which The United Methodist Church is in full communion — Jonathan will deepen our ecumenical relationships. He has a profound grasp of the ethos of Candler and the UMC and I am excited to see Candler continue its commitment to forming leaders for the church and to academic excellence.”

Committed to Candler

Since Strom’s career at Candler began in 1997, he has led efforts to support faculty scholarship and development and expand learning opportunities for students.

Through teaching and various leadership roles, including seven years as associate dean then senior associate dean of faculty and academic affairs, as well as two years in an acting capacity as dean while Dean Love served as interim provost, Strom has encouraged input from community members to inform decisions.

“I have learned so much from my colleagues and from students throughout the years,” he says. “Those connections and experiences have helped me figure out what needs to get done. We need to pay close attention to what people are doing and saying and ensure they have the support they need to accomplish their goals.”

Strom currently serves as the director of international initiatives at Candler, where he actively promotes student flourishing and provides students with experiential learning offerings. In recent years, he has significantly expanded opportunities for study abroad, enabling students to gain diverse global perspectives while in seminary.

His unique understanding of the academic, administrative and philanthropic facets of the role and deep knowledge of Candler will aid in sustaining the school’s transformative momentum of recent years.

“I love Candler,” Strom says. “I have spent the overwhelming majority of my career here and care deeply about the school and its people. I am committed to doing everything I can to continue moving the school forward.”

It’s a sentiment that Love, who will return to the faculty for the 2024-25 academic year before retiring, attests to.

“As a wise, seasoned and dedicated administrator, scholar and teacher, Jonathan Strom is the perfect leader for Candler at this time,” she says. “His understanding of and appreciation for The United Methodist Church will serve the school well as will his devotion to faculty excellence, cutting-edge pedagogy and good governance.” 

Continuing Candler’s momentum and impact

Strom is charged with overseeing a dynamic academic community of more than 100 full-time faculty and staff and 400 students across various degree programs. Among his priorities will be to recruit and retain outstanding theological scholars; broaden academic offerings to increase enrollment; champion financial accessibility for students; foster a culture of inclusion and social justice; and deepen the school’s connections with The United Methodist Church as well as local and global communities.

“Candler is not a place that needs to be shaken up because of complacency,” he notes. “Exciting initiatives are happening across the school, and we are benefiting from an accelerated expansion of our programs and reach. It’s a special place where people want to do new, creative work.”

Strom understands the importance of fostering a community of scholars where faculty eminence is celebrated and a culture of shared governance is supported.

A historian of Christianity at the school for nearly three decades, Strom focuses his research and teaching on the late Reformation and Pietism in continental Europe, the historical development of Protestantism and the emergence of new religious practices. He has authored or edited seven books and more than 40 articles and papers, and his work has been supported through grants from several organizations, including the Association of Theological Schools and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, a German institution that promotes international academic cooperation.

“Candler’s faculty has changed enormously, thanks to deliberate strategic hiring under Dean Love’s leadership,” he says. “I have terrifically dynamic colleagues, and I will continue to cultivate our talented and diverse faculty while supporting their scholarship and development at all levels.”

Another priority will be to lean into new ventures and degree formats to increase enrollment.

“Candler has new programs that are doing great things,” Strom says. “The Candler Foundry, La Mesa Academy for Theological Studies, new virtual and hybrid degree-delivery offerings — these are culture-shifting, forward-thinking initiatives that are broadening access to theological education and reaching new audiences.”

Candler’s investments in these areas have been met with demonstrative success. With the addition of a hybrid Master of Divinity (MDiv) program in fall 2023, entering enrollment increased by nearly 40%. The Candler Foundry, which provides non-degree courses, certificates, talks and webinars on a variety of spiritual and theological topics to persons outside of higher education, has reached more than 200,000 people since its launch in 2019.

Strom is eager to build on this momentum, increasing Candler’s academic offerings and refining existing programs to cater to evolving needs in churches and communities and the fast-changing theological education landscape. Part of those efforts will include expanding financial support for students to transformative levels, allowing the school to attract a robust pool of future ministry leaders.

“Candler has incredible students we can learn a lot from,” Strom says. “By maximizing financial aid, we can enable them to graduate and serve in ministries without being encumbered by debt.”

Focusing on the future of the church

In announcing Strom’s appointment, Bellamkonda expressed gratitude to the Search Advisory Committee chaired by Kimberly Jacob Arriola, dean of the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies and vice provost for graduate affairs. The committee included faculty, staff, students, alumni and church leaders.

“I am grateful to the committee for their dedication to Candler and their insight as we sought a dean who will be a champion for our students, faculty and institution and a partner to The United Methodist Church,” Bellamkonda says. “With their guidance, and considering many listening sessions with the Candler community and stakeholders, I am confident that we have selected a highly respected leader who understands the needs, strengths and vision of the Candler community and is perfectly positioned to lead the school forward into its next chapter.”

Candler’s dedication to shaping faithful leaders for an ever-changing world will drive Strom’s work as the school navigates disruptions in higher education and the church landscape and focuses on efforts that help faculty, staff and students thrive in their work and studies.

“The right kind of changes — exciting, creative and collaborative changes — are happening at Candler,” Strom says. “Everything we do comes from a deep care for the work of the school. Even when people disagree, they come together because of our shared mission. That’s what makes this opportunity worthwhile to me and I am thrilled to lead Candler forward.”

Recent News