Religious studies programs receives $1.5 million gift

Mary Huber

The Foundation for Biblical Studies awarded a $1.5 million gift to support religious studies at UT, the University announced Wednesday.

Funds are being directed to the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, as well as the Department of Religious Studies.

“The board was unanimous in wanting to do this,” foundation president Max Miller said. “We talked to the University, and they felt like this would be a great help to them.”

For 12 years, the foundation has supported universities and professors researching Christian origins. In total, the foundation has donated $7 million to the institute, which helped launch the religious studies graduate program in 2011, according to Martha Newman, religious studies department chair.

“The generosity of the Foundation for Biblical Studies has been instrumental in establishing the department,” Newman said.

Newman said she credits institute director Michael White for securing the donation, and Miller said the foundation commends White’s work in the field. White, who is also a classics and religious studies professor, studies the origins of Christianity by comparing archeology with literature.

Newman defined Christian origins as the study of the Bible, archeology and religious history in the time period between 2 B.C.E. and 3 C.E., when Christianity and rabbinical Judaism developed alongside Greco-Roman culture. White and the institute promote graduate research and specialized degree programs in the study of Christian origins.

“Because of ISAC and Dr. White’s ability to raise funds, I have been able to do far more research,” Ross Ponder, religious studies graduate student, said.

Ponder studied classics as an undergraduate at UT and watched the institute grow from afar.

The institute’s primary project for the past 10 years has been the excavation of the oldest known synagogue in Europe, located in Rome. It also supports graduate student conferences, sponsors lectures and hosts workshops, as well as other networking events.

“ISAC has its feet in a lot of different fires,” Ponder said. “It’s a really dynamic institute under the leadership of Dr. White.”

Ponder said he especially appreciates the foundation’s gift, because in this current economic climate, large donations like this are rare.

The $1.5 million Foundation for Biblical Studies Excellence Fund is the fourth such endowment to support the study of Christian origins at UT.