History Professor Don Yerxa to Head Major Grant Program
Published: 2011-05-18

Don Yerxa_350
ENC History Professor Emeritus Don Yerxa

Eastern Nazarene College Professor Emeritus Donald Yerxa has been named program leader of a major competitive research grant program that will fund projects exploring the role religion may play as a driving force of innovation in human affairs.

Yerxa will oversee operations for The Historical Society’s Religion and Innovation in Human Affairs (RIHA) program. Funded by a major grant from The John Templeton Foundation, the RIHA program will provide $2 million in research support to historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, economists and other social scientists for projects that explore the role of religion and innovation in the progress of civilizations. Typical grant amounts will range from $100,000 to $250,000.

“Many academic disciplines tend to see human societies as driven by food and water, power, material resources and technology,” Yerxa said. “We are asking scholars to engage what many will consider a contrarian perspective: When are religions a source of innovation in the course of civilizations? What role, if any, does religion play in the enormous differences we see in the capacity of various societies to generate novelty and sustain innovation? And more fundamentally, does religion drive society in ways that are not adequately appreciated by scholars?”

Yerxa served as a history professor and administrator at ENC for more than 30 years before being named professor emeritus in May 2009. Prior to accepting the position as RIHA program leader, he served as co-director of the Boston-based Historical Society, where he continues to serve as senior editor of the society’s signature publication, Historically Speaking, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. He is also editor of Fides et Historia – the scholarly journal of the Conference on Faith and History – and a contributing editor for Books & Culture.

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries related to the “big questions” of human purpose and ultimate reality. The foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love and free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of clarity and new insights. The foundation’s vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. Its motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies its support for open-minded inquiry and its hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

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