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Hackett with His Royal Highness Michael Odunayo Ajayi and other honorees.

Rosalind I. J. Hackett, a Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, is starting the school year with two new titles.

In August, Hackett received an honorary chieftaincy in Nigeria, an honor that only more recently has been accorded to foreigners, especially women. During the chieftaincy ceremony, she was told the honor would come with blessings. Days after the event, she was named a University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Professor.

Rosalind Hackett

“The timing was very meaningful to me,” said Hackett. “It comes at a time in my career when I was taking stock of all the research, teaching, mentoring, and conference planning I have conducted in Africa and beyond over the years. It’s a delight to get this recognition.”

Hackett received the honorary title in Nigeria alongside Professor W. Cole Durham Jr. of Brigham Young University and Professor Mark Hill, Queen’s Counsel, of Cardiff University in Wales. Community leaders were also honored at the ceremony. With this recognition comes the hope that the honorary chiefs will contribute in various ways to the kingdom and the development of the town.

Hackett and her colleagues were recognized in part for their work over the past decade promoting the study of law and religion in Africa. The group received their titles during the fifth anniversary celebration of the coronation of the Elerinmo of Erinmoland, His Royal Highness Michael Odunayo Ajayi, on August 9 and 10.

The honorary chiefs were given formal wear and insignia, including coral beads symbolizing the status of a chief or king, to sport at the celebration. People from the community attended the event to pay homage to the king and celebrate.

“I have not only wonderful memories of the celebrations but also the way this has taken me to another level of attachment to Nigeria, particularly the Yoruba people, making me think about new research projects—particularly in the town of Erinmo,” said Hackett.

With her new title, Hackett received introductions to meet other chiefs and kings, creating future opportunities for not only herself but also her students. She says if a student is interested in visiting Africa, this is where she might send them. “This is a ready-made site where students would be made to feel welcome,” Hackett said.

Now that she is back on Rocky Top, Hackett is ready for what comes next.

“To me, there’s a synergy between these two honors,” she said. “Becoming a Chancellor’s Professor and becoming a chief is going to provide more opportunities for me. If ever I had thoughts about slowing down, these two titles are likely to dissuade me.”



Brian Canever (865-974-0937,

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