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Longtime Liberty Prof Karen Swallow Prior Leaving for Southeastern

The author and English instructor will become the first research professor and one of the only female faculty members at the Southern Baptist college.
Longtime Liberty Prof Karen Swallow Prior Leaving for Southeastern
Image: Jillian Clark

One of Liberty University’s best-known professors, Karen Swallow Prior, will be leaving her post to join the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) next fall.

Prior has taught English at Liberty since 1999. During her tenure, she has watched the school transform as its leadership transitioned from late founder Jerry Falwell to son Jerry Falwell Jr.; its enrollment multiplied through pioneering online education platforms; and ultimately its reputation became further aligned with President Donald Trump, a friend of Falwell Jr.’s.

Her own career has transformed as well. Outside of her classroom at Liberty, Prior has grown into evangelicals’ favorite English professor—espousing the virtues of classic literature in books like Booked and On Reading Well and launching conversations on church and culture through her lively, gracious social media presence.

In addition to speaking out as a “Never Trumper” in national media like the New Yorker and The New York Times, Prior has advocated for and allied with abuse survivors, including those from within her denomination as a Southern Baptist.

At Southeastern, she will serve as full-time research professor of English and Christianity & Culture, the first research professor in the history of the college. She will teach at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

“At Liberty, I have been privileged to disciple Christian young people for 21 years, primarily in my discipline of English,” she said in a statement. “My mission in teaching has always been to have students leaving my classroom loving life, literature and God more than when they came in. I look forward to continuing in that mission as I move into this new assignment at Southeastern.”

Among Southern Baptist seminaries, Southeastern has developed a reputation over the past few years for its diversity initiatives and efforts to encourage women’s leadership. The school’s Kingdom Diversity program has set out to raise the proportion of “historically underrepresented voices” and women in its student body, faculty, and staff, as well as improving cultural diversity within curricula.

The College at Southeastern currently lists one woman on its faculty page, English professor Adrianne Miles.

“I am 4 classes away from taking my comps & writing a dissertation. And during my MA work & now this doctoral degree, I HAVE NEVER SAT UNDER THE TEACHING OF A WOMAN @SEBTS,” one student tweeted. “And the idea that other women will have the opportunity to sit under powerhouse @KSPrior is so amazing.”

Southeastern’s President Danny Akin has also been involved in the response to abuse cases that have come to light among Southern Baptists over the past couple years. Akin backed Megan Lively, who spoke up last year about how his predecessor, Paige Patterson, allegedly mishandled her abuse case while she was a student there.

In May 2018, around the time Prior was part of a campaign by Southern Baptist women calling for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to remove Patterson, she was hit by a bus in in downtown Nashville. She shared about the accident and her rehab on social media, and has since returned to running and farm chores on her homestead in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she lives with her husband Roy, parents, and two dogs, Ruby and Eva.

In today’s announcement, Akin called Prior “a gifted teacher in the field of English and literature who loves Christ, the gospel and the Great Commission.”

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