|Noted Reformed Theologian Will Leave Seminary to Join Davidson Faculty
April 10, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
The experience of teaching at Davidson this semester has attracted Douglas F. Ottati to leave his position as senior faculty member at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond and accept a new professorship in Davidson’s religion department.
Ottati has been serving this semester as the Lester Coltrane Visiting Professor of Religion, under the auspices of the Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation. In that capacity, he will deliver the Coltrane Lecture on Monday evening, April 16, on the subject “Theology Among the Arts and Sciences.” It will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith 900 Room of Alvarez College Union, and there is no charge to attend.
|Craig Family Distinguished Professor Douglas Ottati.|
By chance, Ottati’s visiting appointment coincided with the religion department’s search for a distinguished scholar-teacher in theology in general, and Reformed theology in particular, for the new Craig Family Distinguished Professorship in Reformed Theology and Justice Ministry. The professorship also seeks to honor teachers who inspire students to promote peace, and stewardship of the environment. Following an extensive examination of dozens of candidates nationwide, the department found its ideal candidate already located on the third floor of Chambers Building.
Clark Ross, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty, said Ottati is an ideal choice to articulate the Reformed theology and its relationship to Presbyterianism and justice.
Bill Mahony, professor and chair of religion, added, “He’s a distinguished scholar in theology and ethics, is highly respected in the academic community, and is an excellent teacher.”
The addition of a new professorship increases to eight the number of full-time faculty in Davidson’s religion department. Next fall Ottati will teach “Reformed Theology and Ethics,” which examines theology and ethics in the Protestant subtradition that includes Presbyterianism, and he will also teach a 100-level course in “Being Human” that examines humanity through popular film and literature.
Ottati has taught at Union since 1977, and holds the M.E. Pemberton Chair in Theology. He is the longest serving member of the faculty of about twenty-five people, teaching four courses a year to students seeking master’s of divinity and doctoral degrees. He also directs the Howie Center for Science, Art, and Theology, and sits on the board of the Institute of Reformed Theology.
He has been a prolific scholar and public figure in the fields of theology and ethics. He has published six books, including Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, Reforming Protestantism: Christian Commitment in Today’s World, and Hopeful Realism: Recovering The Poetry of Theology. He is also co-general editor of the multi-volume series, The Library of Theological Ethics, and has written dozens of articles for professional and lay journals. He is currently writing a systematic theology for Westminster John Knox Press.
“Reading, writing, teaching… it’s the scholar’s life!” he offered. “I mostly just have fun doing it.”
Ottati enjoys "the scholar's life."
He has led adult Sunday school classes at Grace Covenant and Second Presbyterian churches in Richmond for the past twenty-seven years, and has traveled throughout the country delivering lectures to academic and lay audiences on a wide range of contemporary issues and theological concerns. His topics have ranged from “A Theology of Soccer” to “The War in Iraq, Policy, Justice, and the Morality of Military Service.” He is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Ottati said he was attracted to leave his home and employment of thirty years in part to work within a broader scope of academic disciplines. “Seminaries like Union have as a strength their focus on the clerical education of ministers,” he said. “But at the same time that focus is their significant limitation. Seminaries don’t have arts and sciences departments, so it’s more difficult to study in the context of other disciplines. Coming to Davidson gives me a chance to have those conversations.”
He continued, “From the time I first arrived in January I could tell that Davidson had wonderful students, dynamic and interesting colleagues, and wonderful facilities at a school that seems to have a strong and generally acknowledged commitment to liberal arts education. That’s a pretty nice package.”
He added, “It was not an easy decision to make, but it’s exciting. It comes at a classic time of life when my two children have left the house, and I have an opportunity to do something different. Part of it is as simple as a guy being an auto mechanic for 30 years who gets a chance to work on another machine.”
Ottati has been teaching a courses at Davidson this spring that reflect current concerns and resonate with young students — “Civil Government, War, and Military Service.” He is also teaching a seminar on “Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion,” which is a page-by-page examination of the great theologian’s 1,500-page opus.
His foremost current interests include the resurgence of conservative and fundamental religion. “Years ago if you spoke in public about politics and religion people would have thought you were arcane,” he said. “People thought that, in a secular society and modern world, religion would be marginalized and fade away. That hasn’t happened, and it’s a major shift. We're also a much more religiously and ethnically plural society than we once were. So, people are exposed to others faiths.”
In addition, Ottati said, the trend toward increasing mobility in our society means that fewer people attend the church of their youth. “Mobile people need to make a choice of what church to attend, and their decision will be based in part on what they hear in pulpit, and the tradition of the congregation,” he said. “I think that means to some extent people out there are their own theologians. They’re already thinking theological thoughts. For a theologian like me, it means that people already have an interest in my subject, and that’s a good thing.”
His approach to teaching focuses on helping students understand their place in the world by seeking out noted “conversation partners” who have previously written about life’s big questions. ”There are resources that can help them work out how they’ll be oriented in the world. It is helpful to have studied Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, or a contemporary novelist like Toni Morrison. What's important is not whether one remembers every detail and particular of the text, but the experience of being in conversation with those figures about important things.”
He continued, “But it takes a little work. You need to engage the text with both passion and care rather than offer an easy or lazy response.”
Ottati will relocate to Davidson with his spouse of twenty-eight years, Pamela. She has degrees in art and art history, and teaches preschool. Their son, Albert, is a junior at Skidmore College, and their daughter, Katie, graduated from Bryn Mawr College and works as a paralegal in Philadelphia.
Ottati works to connect his students with "conversation partners," the great writers and thinkers in their fields.
Dr. David E. Craig ’61, his spouse Virginia, and their family created the Craig Distinguished Professorship recently in memory of the Reverend David Irvin Craig, Class of 1878, and the Reverend Carl Brackett Craig, Class of 1911, as well as to honor David and Virginia’s children who attended Davidson: the Reverend Caroline Evelyn Craig ‘88, and Carlton Scott Craig ‘93, and his wife Carol Hancock Craig ‘92.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz