June 05, 2022

In Remembrance: Debra Majeed, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies

Beloit lost one of its brightest teacher-mentors and fiercest advocates when Professor Emerita of Religious Studies Debra Majeed passed away unexpectedly March 20 in Charlotte, N.C.

Her tenure, from 1999 to 2020, left a tremendous legacy at Beloit. She broke new ground as the first Black woman and first Muslim woman to earn tenure at the college. A religious historian, her scholarship and teaching included religious studies, Islamic studies, cultural and identity studies, and womanist studies.

Professor Majeed was a role model and compassionate mentor to countless students and faculty, expressing what her faculty colleague Sonya Maria Johnson called “a fierce love for Beloit” by pushing for racial equity, justice, and understanding.

“Debra was the conscience of the college,” President Scott Bierman wrote in a campus announcement. “No matter the setting, whenever she talked, everyone listened. She spoke truth to power with astounding courage, honesty, wisdom, and generosity.”

When she retired, faculty colleagues recognized her for “encouraging all of us to imagine and become our best selves — that is, to follow her lead in balancing a reflective inner life with a courageous outer life. Nowhere has she issued and met this challenge more compellingly than in the classroom, where for the past 20 years, Professor Majeed’s high expectations and passionate dedication to her students have elicited their best work.”

Over her career, she published widely, furthering a public understanding of Islam, including through her acclaimed 2016 book Polygyny: What it Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands.

At Beloit, she was nominated by her students to receive the Underkofler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2017 and held the Edwin F. Wilde, Jr. Distinguished Service Professorship at the time of her retirement.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Pepperdine University, her M.A. and M.Div. from Fuller Evangelical Theological Seminary, and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

A memorial service was held in Eaton Chapel in May.

The Debra Majeed Fund for Religious Studies has been set up to support community-building in the study of religion at Beloit College. To contribute in her honor, please visit beloit.edu/giving or call (608) 363-2655.


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