Jeffrey Pugh honored as Distinguished Scholar

A renowned scholar in the field of religious studies, a respected Elon colleague and an influential teacher of Elon students for more than two decades, Jeffrey Pugh, Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies, has been named the 2010 Distinguished University Scholar.

“The significant gains in academic intensity and intellectual depth that have marked Elon’s recent history could not have occurred without the work of faculty members like Jeffrey Pugh,” says a fellow faculty member. “He is an important example of how and why scholarship can thrive.”

Jeffrey Pugh

Pugh is the 11th recipient of Elon’s Distinguished Scholar Award. The award recognizes a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect, and who has made significant contributions to his or her field of study.

He joined Elon’s faculty in 1986 after earning his master of divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and another master’s and doctorate from Drew University Graduate School in Madison, N.J. His graduate research focused on systematic and historical theology, and he continued that work after arriving at Elon. His ambitious research has produced four books which seek approaches to religious and Christian studies that have both historical and contemporary relevance.

Of Pugh’s first book, The Anselmic Shift: Christology and Method in Karl Barth’s Theology (1990), a colleague at another university says: “[It] is considered by us theologians as a genuine religious classic and an indispensible source for understanding the impact Karl Barth made on twentieth century theology.”

In his second book, The Matrix of Faith: Reclaiming a Christian Vision (2001), another colleague says: “Pugh has done something remarkable in this text. He has engaged traditional theological thinkers, ‘dead white guys,’ in meaningful encounter with contemporary media, events and commentators … and offered a renewed look at what the Christian tradition has to offer.”

Pugh’s most recent two books have found applications beyond the traditional realm of religious studies. His Entertaining the Triume Mystery: God, Science and the Space Between (2003) addresses the complicated relationship between religion and science. His critically acclaimed 2009 work, Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times, focuses on one of the foremost voices in twentieth century theology and the ways his work is applied in today’s political and religious climate.

Pugh’s latest book is so successful because, as a colleague says, “he gives his readers the requisite tools not only to understand his points, but to apply those new ideas to their own lives. This valuable ability is not shared by all scholars.”

Pugh’s extensive research into Bonhoeffer’s life and work earned him a seat on the International Bonhoeffer Society’s board of directors. A frequent presenter at domestic and international conferences on Bonhoeffer and scores of other topics, Pugh also is a frequently invited speaker at colleges and universities.

“Jeff stands out for his ability to capture our attention and make a theological presentation an enjoyable experience seasoned by his witty comments and ability to stimulate in-depth exchanges,” says a colleague from another institution. “Many of us wish Jeff was living much closer to our own universities.”

At Elon, Pugh’s value to the institution is apparent. He has served two terms as chair of the Department of Religious studies. In 2000, he won the university’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2006, he was named a Maude Sharpe Powell Professor. Recently, he penned a chapter for a book published by Elon faculty members Tom Arcaro and Rosemary Haskell, Navigating the Global Experience: Becoming a Responsible Citizen. Last year, he was a member of the committee that created The Elon Commitment strategic plan.

Daily, his Elon colleagues recognize the many ways Pugh makes the university a great place to teach and learn.

“He has tirelessly promoted the welfare of the university, its faculty and its students,” says a fellow faculty member. “He helps us all to see the power of ideas and the beauty of knowledge.”