Historian of religion Timothy L. Smith, a pioneer for evangelicals in secular universities, died January 20 following extended illnesses in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was 72.
"He had an enormous impact as a role model," says Grant Wacker, professor of religious history at Duke University Divinity School. "He was the first evangelical historian in the U.S. to make it in the secular research university."
A writer who published seminal pieces in nearly every historical journal, Smith won acclaim for his 1957 book Revivalism and Social Reform. Smith's book, which tied historical revival movements to social action at a time when few evangelical churches made the association, received the Brewer prize from the American Society of Church History. Smith also penned a history of the Nazarene church, Called Unto Holiness, which he considered his most outstanding accomplishment.
A professor of history and education at Johns Hopkins University for 25 years, Smith also was a leading authority on the history of European immigration to the United States and the history of American education.
"He wanted to appreciate the big ideas held by little people," says Joel Carpenter, provost of Calvin College and a former student of Smith's. "He had uncommon respect for common people."
Before his days at Johns Hopkins, where he also served as director of the program in American Religious History,
Smith taught at the University of Minnesota, East Texas State College, and Eastern Nazarene College. An ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, he pastored churches in Massachusetts, Maine, and Colorado.
"You would be hard-pressed to find a school in the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities that Smith did not speak at," says Carpenter. "Who knows how many people he inspired to pursue higher education?"
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