Emory Report
March 23, 2009
Volume 61, Number 24

Memorial information
for Nancy Eiesland

Memorial service:
Sunday, March 22 at
2 p.m. in Cannon Chapel.

Memorial gifts
: Send to the Nancy L. Eiesland Fund to Support Students with Disabilities, Candler School of Theology, 1531 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322.



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March 23
, 2009
Courageous inquiry: Remembering Eiesland

By Laurel Hanna, for Candler School of Theology

Across three decades Nancy L. Eiesland gave the Candler School of Theology community “graceful gifts beyond measure.” As a Candler MDiv student, a Ph.D. student in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, and as a deeply valued Candler faculty member, she shared with students and colleagues a luminous love of learning and teaching and a radiant smile and humor. She exemplified Emory’s commitment to courageous inquiry and inspired those around her with her astounding resilience.

Eiesland, associate professor of sociology of religion and disability studies at Candler, died March 10, four months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. She is survived by her husband, Terry, associate director of international programs at Emory, and a daughter, Marie.

“In the brief two years that I knew Nancy, she touched me deeply, particularly in her gracious spirit and her determination to live well and fully. She and her family also taught me a lot about how to die well. Their ability to love and uphold each other through very tender and tough experiences provides a model for us all,” says Jan Love, dean of Candler.

Eiesland made groundbreaking contributions in two distinct fields of scholarship. Born with a congenital defect that led to years of debilitating surgery, braces and joint replacements, Eiesland did pioneering work in disability studies, articulating the first liberatory theology of disability in her book, “The Disabled God.” This book, which began as an honors thesis at Candler, has become a classic in the field.

In “A Particular Place,” Eiesland studied congregations in a rapidly growing exurban area of Atlanta. By following church members’ everyday patterns, she explored the ecology of social institutions and networks, showing how the role of congregations in people’s lives changes in new social conditions. This book established Eiesland as a leader in sociology of religion and congregational studies.

Eiesland taught classes in the social and cultural study of religion, gender and disability; urban change and religious organization; and methods of qualitative research. She prepared a generation of students to enter the ministry and the academy with a deep awareness of the intricate social world embodied in each congregation.

Students embarking on their own academic careers remember Eiesland as “refreshingly pragmatic” and “remarkably broad-minded” as she provided a role model of an engaged teacher and scholar.

“Nancy Eiesland was the best kind of mentor: Rather than seeking to make her students into protégés, she understood herself to be on a journey with us, and she provided the tools we needed to develop as independent scholars,” says Marie Marquardt ’04G, a former student of Eiesland’s.

Candler colleagues point to Eiesland’s passion for the life of the church, her noted scholarship, and her remarkable spirit. “Nancy touched and taught us all through the wisdom of her life’s work, and the courage and caring she lived out every day,” says Steve Tipton, C.H. Candler Professor of Sociology of Religion. A collective faculty tribute to Eiesland published on the Candler Web site states, “Her great courage, compassion, and honesty and her trust in the goodness of creation and the promise of its redemption were hallmarks of her presence among us .… Nancy Eiesland has given us all an enduring example of Candler’s own commitment to the church and the world. We will miss her dearly.”