Valeri installed as the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics

Valeri delivers a lecture following his installation as the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics. (Credit: Sid Hastings/WUSTL Photos)

Mark Valeri, PhD, widely regarded as one of the most eminent scholars of American religion during the Revolutionary War era, was installed Feb. 24 as the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.

William B. Neaves, PhD, emeritus trustee at Washington University and president emeritus of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, established the professorship in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in honor of his wife, the Rev. Priscilla Wood Neaves.

“As one who has admired Washington University for decades and knows firsthand the importance of endowed professorships, I am delighted to establish this professorship in honor of Priscilla,” Neaves said. “I can think of no better way to contribute to the excellence of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and the distinguished scholars working at the forefront of their fields.”

“I am deeply grateful to Bill Neaves for establishing the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professorship in Religion and Politics and for the opportunity to have Priscilla’s name permanently connected with the university,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “His wonderful show of support adds significantly to the growing prestige of the Danforth Center.”

The Danforth Center on Religion and Politics was founded in 2010 with a $30 million gift from the Danforth Foundation. The center is an open venue that fosters rigorous, unbiased scholarship on the intersections of religion and U.S. politics, and encourages conversations among those with different points of view.

“Our thriving center is further strengthened by this gift from William Neaves,” said Leigh E. Schmidt, PhD, acting director of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities. “Mark Valeri is a renowned historian and theologian, and he is a tremendous addition to the center.”

About Mark Valeri

Valeri came to Washington University in 2014 from Union
Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va., where he served as the
Ernest Trice Thompson Professor of Church History since 1996. A
committed educator, he taught previously at Lewis and Clark College,
where he won a faculty achievement award for outstanding teaching.

Valeri earned a PhD from Princeton University, a master of divinity from Yale
Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth College. His
areas of research and teaching include religion and social thought,
especially economics, in America; Reformation theology and the political
history of Calvinism; Puritanism; and enlightenment moral philosophy.

has received several fellowships, including an Andrew W. Mellon
fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, an
American Council of Learned Societies grant and a Lilly Endowment
faculty fellowship. His work is focused on religious
persuasion, evangelicalism and secularism in the 18th century.

The author of many articles and essays, Valeri’s latest book, “Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America”
(Princeton University Press, 2010), received the 2011 Philip Schaff
Prize from the American Society of Church History. It was also
shortlisted for the 2011 American Academy of Religion Award for
Excellence in the Historical Study of Religion and selected as one of
Choice magazine’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010.

The book
analyzes social and moral transformations in the American economy from
the early 1600s, when Puritans argued that personal profit should be
subordinate to customary restrictions on trade, to the mid-eighteenth
century, when Christians increasingly celebrated commerce as an
unqualified good.

About Priscilla Wood Neaves and William Neaves

Priscilla Wood Neaves is a former Methodist minister with a personal interest in the role of gender in religion and politics. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Boston University in 1966 and a master’s degree in theology from Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in 1985. Recognizing the importance of endowed professorships, Wood Neaves later led a fundraising campaign to establish the William Joseph Ambrose Power Chair at the Perkins School of Theology.

Wood Neaves served as associate pastor of William Martin United Methodist Church in Bedford, Texas, and, later, First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas. While still in Texas, she became an ecclesiastically certified hospital chaplain and served at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

After moving to Missouri with her husband, Wood Neaves worked for several years as the full-time volunteer chaplain of Carroll County Memorial Hospital. She also served as vice chair on the board for the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. In 2014, a collection of her sermons and meditations was published.

William Neaves has served on the university’s Board of Trustees since 2003 and is a member of the National Council for the School of Medicine. He earned an undergraduate degree in biology in 1966 and a doctorate in anatomy in 1970, both from Harvard University.

He served briefly as a lecturer at Harvard before joining the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he would spend nearly 30 years. Neaves served initially as an assistant professor of cell biology, and, by 1977, became a full professor. In 1983, he received the Young Andrologist Award of the American Society of Andrology and was later elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in recognition of his work on steroid hormones.

During his career at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Neaves served as dean of Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, dean of Southwestern Medical School and executive vice president for academic affairs. He also was awarded the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science.

His success was noticed by Jim Stowers, founder of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and, in 2000, Neaves moved to Kansas City to become the institute’s first president and CEO.

Under his leadership, the institute grew to 20 independent research programs, three technology centers, and more than 200 scientists who now include five fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, two current and two former investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and one member of the National Academy of Sciences. Neaves was named Stowers President Emeritus in 2010.

In addition to their gift to the Danforth Center, the Neaves have supported scholarships in the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and also donated Wood Neaves’ library containing books on gender and religion to Olin Library.