Villanova University to Present Civitas Dei Medal to Theologian M. Shawn Copeland, Influential in Issues Pertaining to African American Catholics

Civitas Dei 2023

VILLANOVA, Pa.—Villanova University will award its Civitas Dei Medal to M. Shawn Copeland, PhD, professor emerita of Systematic Theology at Boston College and one of the most influential voices in drawing attention to issues surrounding African American Catholics, at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15. With the Civitas Dei Medal, Villanova honors Catholics who, through their work, have made exemplary contributions to the Catholic intellectual tradition and the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness.

Copeland, who earned her doctoral degree at Boston College, has taught at Yale Divinity School, Marquette University and Xavier University of Louisiana, among others. She also has held visiting positions at Harvard Divinity School and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. For the 2022–23 academic year, she is the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice at St. John’s University (NY).

The first African American president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Copeland also served as convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and has filled important roles with the American Academy of Religion.

Copeland has gained renown for her research in three intersecting areas: shifts in theological understanding of the human person; the African American Catholic experience; and issues pertinent to political or praxis-based theologies. Traveling internationally, she lectures on the African American historical, religious, cultural and intellectual experience, bringing it into critical dialogue with various aspects of Christianity to foster deep regard for and solidarity with the “neighbor,” as well as respect and appreciation for human difference.

An award-winning writer, she is the author of Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (2018), Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (2010) and The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette Delille (2009). She has co-edited several volumes and has penned more than 130 articles, reviews and book chapters.

For her outstanding contributions to theology and to Catholic intellectual life, Copeland has received many accolades, including the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ Monika Hellwig Award and the Catholic Theological Society of America’s John Courtney Murray Award.

The Civitas Dei Medal takes its name from the Latin title of St. Augustine’s City of God. In this seminal work, Augustine encouraged intellectual engagement between the Church and the world.

View the list of previous Civitas Dei Medal recipients.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit



Civitas Dei Medal