Dr. William J. Meyer installed as Ralph W. Beeson Chair in Religion

During a luncheon and installation ceremony held recently in Maryville College’s Proffitt Dining Room, Dr. William Meyer was named the Ralph W. Beeson Chair of Religion.

Meyer, an associate professor of philosophy and religion, is the third professor to hold the title. The chair was established at the college in 1991 with funds from the estate of Birmingham insurance executive Ralph Waldo Beeson, who wished to recognize a faculty member for exemplary accomplishments as a teacher and scholar, “thereby contributing to the continued academic excellence at Maryville College,” explained Dr. Robert Naylor, vice president and dean.

“Earnings on the endowment underwrite a portion of the chair holder’s salary and provide funds to support research, travel and scholarly materials,” he said.

Professor Emeritus Dr. David Cartlidge and associate professor of religion, Dr. Peggy Cowan, both previous holders of the Beeson Chair, were in attendance at the luncheon and recognized for their achievements.

Meyer earned his doctoral degree in ethics and society and his master of divinity degree from the University of Chicago. He holds a bachelor of divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University.

He joined the MC faculty in 1997, teaching courses in ethics, philosophy and religion. A frequent peer reviewer for “The Journal of Religion” and “The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics,” Meyer is currently preparing his 660-page manuscript, with the working title “Metaphysics and Christian Ethics,” for publication while on sabbatical this spring. He has spent eight years researching and writing the book.

Three of the five scholars on campus to critique Meyer’s draft were in attendance at the installation ceremony. They included Dr. Timothy Beach-Verhey from Davidson College, Dr. Lois Malcolm from Luther Theological Seminary and Dr. Franklin Gamwell from the University of Chicago. Dr. Gamwell also spoke.

Meyer was also instrumental in writing a grant for the college’s Initiative on Vocation, which resulted in a $2 million implementation grant and a $500,000 renewal grant, both from Lilly Endowment Inc. as a part of the endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) initiative.

“Dr. Meyer is, indeed, a most valued and cherished colleague,” said Dr. Susan Schneibel, professor of comparative literature and chair of the division of humanities. “He is an active and generous participant in the life of the college, an inspiring teacher and a wonderful mentor for his students.

“Since 1997, Dr. Meyer has worked tirelessly and unselfishly to make the college’s agenda his own,” she continued. “On the division level, he has been a guiding force in revamping our curriculum. His reputation as an excellent and challenging classroom instructor has attracted some of the best students on campus to the study of religion and philosophy.”

“He is a kind, gentle, honest and earnest person of great strength and understanding,” she added. “I can think of no one better suited or more deserving of this honor.”

Meyer said he appreciated the opportunity to serve the college as the Ralph W. Beeson Chair of Religion.

The professor said he had long been interested in religion, values and faith and attitudes held about them. His book explores society’s reluctance to integrate modern reason with questions that are philosophical and theological in nature.

“The modern world tends to separate and compartmentalize rather than to integrate and connect, … [It] tends to sharply separate facts from values, reason from faith, and science from religion,” he told those gathered for the ceremony. “Sharp and utter separation has never made sense to me, for ultimately we live in one world - however diverse that world may be. Such separation is certainly not conducive to the integrative nature and function of the liberal arts.

“In my 11 years of teaching philosophy and religion here at the college, I have sought to help students understand how the modern world ended up with a bifurcated and compartmentalized outlook, and to introduce them to philosophical and theological perspectives that seek to fully integrate modern reason and the ultimate questions of meaning and value that are addressed in both philosophy and religion,” he said.

Meyer, his wife, Dr. Cynthia Meyer, and their son, Robby, live in Maryville.

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