September 8, 1998
Volume 51, No. 3
Philanthropist endows chair for Jesus and culture study
Emory has received a gift of $1.5 million from the Alonzo McDonald family to fund a distinguished professorship dedicated to the study of Jesus and his impact on culture.
"The comparative study of Jesus and his impact on culture allows the arts and sciences to bring academic rigor to a central framing influence of modern human history," said Emory College Dean Steven Sanderson. "Through this chair, the academy can gather the best scholars and students from many traditions to consider Jesus and Christianity in their full cultural manifold."
The McDonald Chair in the Study of Jesus and Culture, to be housed in the college, will be a visiting position that will bring to campus a prominent scholar each year selected from a wide variety of academic and professional disciplines. The scholar could be a philosopher, artist, cultural anthropologist, lawyer or musician, for example, and will spend a year on campus exploring the topic of Jesus and culture from the standpoint of his or her particular discipline.
Scholars will teach an undergraduate class, conduct a seminar for graduate and professional students, hold discussions with faculty member and make a series of presentations to the public while on campus. Plans also call for their work to be recorded and archived at Emory, creating a set of materials that can be used by disciplines across the University. The first scholar is expected to arrive during the 2000-2001 academic year, and administrators hope to begin the program by hosting an interdisciplinary conference on Jesus and culture.
"The cultural significance of Jesus in Europe and the Americas becomes obvious when listing the ways in which his person has had an impact on all religions of the West, his teachings on every sort of moral and political philosophy; his story on ritual, drama, music, literature and psychology; his representation in art and architecture," said Luke Johnson, Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, who helped draft the proposal for the chair. "Yet the impact of Jesus on culture is not merely past. Jesus is central to heated contemporary debates."
"A visiting professorship dedicated to these multiple and complex cultural questions provides an invaluable opportunity for our students and faculty to engage in sustained interdisciplinary study in the arts and sciences," said William Fox, vice president for institutional advancement.
Alonzo McDonald '48C is a member of the Board of Trustees and founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Avenir Group, a firm of development bankers and international investors based in Birmingham, Mich. A native of Atlanta, McDonald graduated with a degree in journalism, then served two years as a reporter, section editor and political writer for The Atlanta Journal before obtaining an MBA from Harvard University and embarking on a business career. McDonald was deputy chief of staff to President Jimmy Carter and spent 17 years at the consulting firm McKinsey and Co., serving for many years as worldwide managing director. He served on the faculty of Harvard Business School, then became president and vice chairman of Bendix Corp. until 1983, when he formed Avenir.
"My hope is that this professorship will provide an opportunity for a wide range of scholars to explore and communicate the impact of Jesus on various fields of study over the centuries and how that influences our thinking today," McDonald said. "That influence extends far beyond the field of religion and has enormous scholarly appeal to persons of all faiths and nonbelievers as well."