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James W. Lewis to retire as executive director of the Louisville Institute

by Louisville Seminary | Oct 17, 2011
Dr. James W. Lewis will retire after 20 years as Executive Director of the Louisville Institute at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The announcement was shared with the campus community by Seminary President Michael Jinkins, who said Dr. Lewis plans to retire in the summer of 2012.

Generously supported by the Endowment since 1990, the Institute has been a national leader in the study of religion and support of pastors and church leaders in North America.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Lewis became the Institute’s first Executive Director charged with developing a national center for the support of research and leadership education on North American religion. Over the years, the Institute has been guided by its fundamental mission to enrich the religious life of American Christians and to encourage the revitalization of their institutions, by bringing together those who lead religious institutions with those who study them, so that the work of each might strengthen and inform the other.

Since 1990, Dr. Lewis has carried this out with the Institute’s board by processing more than 9,000 grant applications; awarding 1,678 grants, totaling $30,544,997; and convening individuals around conversations regarding the character, problems, contributions, and prospects of the historic institutions and commitments of American Christianity. To date, the work of the Institute has supported at least 141 dissertations, 182 articles, and 315 books

“In his most unassuming manner, Jim has worked among us as a valuable contributor to the life and administration of our Seminary. Jim embodies the highest standard of scholarship and love for the church. He is an extraordinary colleague,” stated Jinkins.

A Texan, raised in Missouri, Lewis, a National Merit Scholar, graduated from Baylor University and then Yale Divinity School (MDiv). He earned his Ph.D. in American religious history from the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he also served for 11 years as Dean of Students. Though his vocation has always been in educational administration, early in his career he was the director of community ministries in an inner city parish in St. Louis, Mo. A true historian, he is the author of At Home in the City: Mainstream Protestantism in Gary, Indiana, 1906-75 (University of Tennessee Press, 1992) and co-editor with James P. Wind of the two-volume American Congregations on congregational history (University of Chicago Press, 1994).

In 1991, at the launch of the Louisville Institute, then Louisville Seminary President John M. Mulder said that Lewis’ “experience and sensitivity to the issues confronting American Protestantism today will enrich the Louisville Institute’s program and provide a firm foundation for this new enterprise.”

“Twenty years later, the strength of that foundation is substantially solid, prepared for a new phase of Louisville Institute’s mission,” said Jinkins, who announced in September that that Lilly Endowment Inc. had awarded a grant of almost $8 million to Louisville Seminary to continue the work of the Institute through 2015.

In conjunction with announcing the search for a new executive director, Lewis shared his personal reflections about his own experiences in the position he has shaped, saying,

“… it has been my joy and delight to serve [as executive director for these past 20 years]. From that first day in the office, it has been my passion to advance the Louisville Institute’s mission to bring the church and the academy into closer conversation and cooperation. With the generous support of the Lilly Endowment and the encouragement of its Senior Vice President for Religion, Dr. Craig Dykstra, the Louisville Institute has sought to strengthen the intersection of the two and, in so doing, enrich the work of both. … As I look forward to retirement next summer I am gratified that, under new leadership, the essential work of the Louisville Institute will continue. For the right person, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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