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James Watts named Tolley Professor in Humanities

August 22, 2011

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

The College of Arts and Sciences has appointed James W. Watts as the William P. Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities. An expert in literature and religion of the Hebrew Bible, Watts serves as professor and chair of the Department of Religion. He takes over the professorship, which promotes humanities teaching and curriculum development, from English professor Silvio Torres-Saillant and philosophy professor Robert Van Gulick, both of whom have shared it since 2008.

“Jim Watts is a distinguished scholar who contributes significantly to intellectual life on campus, specifically to the College’s ‘Humanities in the Digital Age’ Excellence Initiative,” says Dean George M. Langford. “He is a teacher who thinks deeply about pedagogy, and knows how to stimulate intellectual exchange and discourse among humanities faculty.”

Colleague Gerald R. Greenberg agrees: “Jim is an excellent mentor to our graduate students and junior faculty and is committed to doing his best for others. His interpersonal and organizational skills are invaluable.” Greenberg is the College’s senior associate dean for academic affairs and the humanities; associate dean of curriculum, instruction and programming; and associate professor of Slavic and linguistics.

Watts plans to use the professorship to organize a variety of events, including faculty dinners, first-year faculty gatherings and a biennial humanities conference at SU’s Minnowbrook Conference Center in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. The initial theme of the faculty dinners, he says, will be humanistic perspectives on digital culture.

“The digital humanities have been a topic of conversation on campus for a while, thanks in part to ‘Humanities in the Digital Age,’” says Watts. “There has been a lot of confusion, however, over what the ‘digital humanities’ are. Events such as the Tolley dinners can provide a forum for exploring the contributions that the humanities make to understanding the digital culture we take part in.”

Watts is looking forward to learning how his colleagues’ training and research have given them insights into aspects of digital culture. He also sees potential for collaboration with the Central New York Humanities Corridor, which is housed in the SU Humanities Center, and involves Cornell University and the University of Rochester. “This kind of partnership could result in increased funding for ‘Humanities in the Digital Age,’” he says.

Since joining the SU faculty in 1999, Watts has established himself as a nationally recognized scholar, teacher and administrator. In addition to the religion department, he chairs the College’s Humanities Council; presides over the local chapter of Theta Chi Beta, a national religion honorary society; and co-manages with Spalding University’s Dorina Miller Parmenter G’09 the Iconic Books Project. Watts has written three books, including “Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From Sacrifice to Scripture” (Cambridge University Press, 2007); has edited four collections; and has published nearly 40 chapters, articles and academic papers.

Prior to SU, Watts held faculty positions at Hastings College (Nebraska) and Stetson University (Florida). He earned a Ph.D. in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament from Yale University.

The Tolley Professorship was established in 1995 to support the enhancement of pedagogical experience at SU and to maximize effectiveness in the classroom. Named for Chancellor Emeritus William P. Tolley, the position has benefited hundreds of tenured and non-tenured faculty members.

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