Akiyama Appointed Director of Religious and Spiritual Life
Diana Akiyama, an Episcopal priest and scholar specializing in areas of gender, race and religion, has been appointed as the new director of religious and spiritual life at Occidental College.
Akiyama starts the job July 14 and will coordinate the activities of a dozen campus religious groups.
“I am very excited about this new opportunity at Occidental,” she said. “I intend to help make Occidental a model of how colleges can successfully integrate programs that encourage and assist the exploration of values and beliefs in determining the kind of work one might do.”
Akiyama most recently taught gender studies at the University of Southern California, a position she held from 1996-2002. She also has filled in for rectors at a number of Episcopalian parishes in Southern California. Akiyama earned a doctorate in religion and social ethics from USC in 2001, and a master’s in divinity in 1988 from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon.
Akiyama has extensive clerical experience, having served as interim assistant rector in 1997 for All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. From 1988-1995, she was associate dean – then acting dean – of the chapel at Stanford University. At Stanford, she administered various undergraduate programs, including those focusing on diversity, multi-faith issues and a summer internship program exploring the role of service in one’s life.
At Occidental, Akiyama takes over for interim director Kerry Riley, who took on the role when The Rev. Anne Cohen resigned last year to embark upon full-time ministerial work. Akiyama said she will continue to foster Occidental’s long tradition of religious diversity by offering programs, speakers and interactions “that incorporate creative thinking about ritual and symbols in our postmodern world.”
Her arrival comes at an important time for the college’s Herrick Chapel and Interfaith Center. Funded by a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Occidental is about to embark on the biggest faith- and vocation-based initiative in memory – the Lilly Endowment Project on the Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual Dimensions of Vocation and Meaningful Work. The objective of the four-year grant is to make students think deeply about their values and relate those principles to academic work.
“We wanted someone who understood religious diversity and who would be able to propose innovative programs that would take advantage of our diversity,” said search committee chairman Dale Wright, David B. and Mary H. Gamble Professor in Religion. “We think we found that person in Diana Akiyama. Her knowledge of the variety of religions that are represented on this campus is outstanding, and she showed uncanny wisdom in imagining programs that might link together students from various religious backgrounds.”
“The inclusion of religious diversity as a vital aspect of Occidental’s educational culture is not only timely, given global events, it is also an excellent opportunity for students to engage religions and beliefs that are different than their own,” Akiyama said.
Akiyama was selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants in a national search. The search committee included representatives from the faculty, administration and student body.
Akiyama lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Michael L. Jackson, vice president of student affairs at USC. She grew up in Hood River, Ore., and was the first Japanese-American woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.