2019 Distinguished Alumni Awardees

2018-19 Vanderbilt Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion

Distinguished Alumni Award recipients


Divinity School Recipient: Dr. James A. Sanders

Claremont, CA

Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, TN B.D.’51

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN .   B.A. ‘48 

James A. Sanders was professor of intertestamental and biblical studies at the Claremont School of Theology (CST) from 1977 to 1997, while concurrently professor of religion at the Claremont Graduate School. Prior to going to Claremont Sanders was professor of Old Testament first at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester NY (1954-65) and then at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City (1965-77). After formal retirement in Claremont in 1997 he was visiting professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary/Columbia University in New York City for the year 1997-98 and adjunct professor of Old Testament at Yale University Divinity School the spring semester of 1998. He served also as visiting professor at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City in the spring of 2001.

Sanders founded the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont in 1977, the year he moved from New York to Claremont. Under his direction the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center houses the most complete and best preserved collection of archival quality films of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the world; museums in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the world have ordered films of the Scrolls from the Center.

He has overseen the publication of The Dead Sea Scrolls Catalogue and Index used by scholars around the world, and with West Semitic Research at the University of Southern California has published a diplomatic edition of films of Leningradensis (Eerdmans, 1998), the oldest complete Hebrew Bible in the world taken by the Center’s photographers in Leningrad/St Petersburg in 1990. He became president emeritus of the Center in 2003.

Sanders has been presented with three volumes of essays (Festschriften) published in his honor: A Gift of God in Due Season, ed. by Richard Weis and David Carr (Sheffield, 1996); In Quest of Meaning in Context and Intertextuality, ed. by Craig Evans and Shemaryahu Talmon (Brill, 1997); and a Special Tribute Edition of The Folio: The Bulletin of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center for Preservation and Research 15/1 (fall 1998), continued in 16/1 (summer 1999).

Sanders’ scholarly interests bridge the testaments of Christian Scripture with focus on the Prophets, the literature of Early or pre-Rabbinic Judaism, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament. He has authored or edited twenty-nine books, and over 300 scholarly articles. He co-authored and co-edited The Canon Debate (Hendrickson Press, 2002). With Dominique Barthélemy of the Université de Fribourg he is co-editor of the (so-far) four volumes of Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament (Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht, 1982–).

Sanders is past president of the Society of Biblical Literature, a member of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, the International Organization for Targumic and Cognate Studies, as well as other scholarly societies. He is the only American member of the United Bible Society’s Hebrew Old Testament Text Critical Project, which has so far published nine volumes of work done since 1969. That work has led to the current international preparation of Biblia Hebraica Quinta, the fifth edition of the scholarly Hebrew Bible that will be used for study and translations throughout the world in the 21st century. In 1961 in Jerusalem he unrolled the large Scroll of Psalms from Qumran Cave 11 (eleven) and published it in two volumes in 1965 and 1967. Sanders has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature, Interpretation, Journal for the Study of Judaism, and Biblical Theology Bulletin, among others. His book Torah and Canon (still in print) launched in 1972 a new subdiscipline of biblical study called Canonical Criticism.

Sanders has lectured, taught, and preached at colleges, seminaries, churches, and pastors’ schools (Protestant, Catholic and Jewish) around the country and Canada. He was Alexander Robertson professor of biblical studies at Glasgow University in 1990-91, and has lectured several times at the Université de Fribourg en Suisse. He recently has lectured by invitation at the Universität Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Michigan, and read a paper in 1999 at the first-ever symposium inside the Vatican sponsored by The Holy Office, on the function of Scripture in the Church–the only non-Roman Catholic so invited. In 2002 he lectured to seminary presidents and deans from around the country at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

He has over the years received fellowships and grants from the Fulbright Scholarship Program, the Rockefeller Foundation (twice), the Guggenheim Foundation (twice), and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He has served as annual professor at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem (now The Albright Institute) and twice was senior fellow at the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Study at Tantur south of Jerusalem (1972-73 and 1 985).

Sanders holds the B.A. degree, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and the B.D. degree, with distinction, from Vanderbilt University; a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College, a Litt.D. from Acadia University, an S.T.D. from Glasgow University, D.H.L.s from Coe College, California Lutheran University and Hebrew Union College, and was nominated for an honorary doctorate by the Université de Fribourg en Suisse.

Graduate Department of Religion Recipient: Dr. Sharon Welch

Chicago, IL 


Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN M.A. ’77, Ph.D. ’82 (Theology)

Graceland College, Lamoni, IA .

B.A. ’75, Religion and Psychology (summa cum laude)

Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 1971-72

Dr. Welch is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Humanist Studies and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Peace Ministry Network.

She served as Provost and Professor of Religion and Society at Meadville Lombard for ten years.

She has held positions as Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Adjunct Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri from 1991-2007. She was assistant and then associate professor of Theology and Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School from 1982 to 1991.

While at the University of Missouri, Welch was a Senior Fellow in the Center for Religion, the Professions, and the Public, a project leader of the Ford-sponsored Difficult Dialogues Program, and co-chair of the MU Committee for the Scholarship of Multicultural Teaching and Learning.

Dr. Welch is the author of five books: Real Peace, Real Security: The challenges of global citizenship, After Empire: The Art and Ethos of Enduring PeaceA Feminist Ethic of RiskSweet Dreams in America: Making Ethics and Spirituality Work, and Communities of Resistance and Solidarity. Dr. Welch is also a regular contributor to Tikkun magazine, and is the author of many articles.

Dr. Welch is the recipient of numerous awards, many of which recognize her excellence in teaching.  Among these are the Internationalizing the Curriculum Course Development Award (2002) and the College of Education, High Flyer Teaching Award (several years).  She also received the Annual Gustavus Myers Award: Honorable Mention for her 1999 book, Sweet Dreams in America: Making Ethics and Spirituality Work (Routledge). She was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology by Starr King School of the Ministry in May 2007.

About the award

Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Graduate Department of Religion recognize distinguished alumni/ae whose accomplishments and contributions have had a broad impact and positive effect in various forms of ministry and scholarship.

The faculty has approved the following criteria for the two awards:

  • The Divinity School award is given to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in justice making through their work in congregational ministry, religious institutions, ecumenical organizations, community –based organizations, government, or other social institutions.
  • The Graduate Department of Religion award is given to someone whose scholarship, teaching, or research has advanced the understanding of religion and its formative impact in the world.

Previous recipients of the award


Divinity School Award: Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, D.Min.’92

Graduate Department of Religion Award: Reverend Dr. Chandra Taylor Smith, B.A.’83, Ph.D.’01


Divinity School Award: Representative Harold M. Love, Jr., M.T.S.’98

Graduate Department of Religion Award: Reverend Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., Ph.D.’75


Divinity School Award: The Reverend Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D., M.Div.’86

Graduate Department of Religion Award: Dr. James L. Crenshaw, Ph.D.’64


Divinity School Award (two awards were given out this year):

  • Bishop Joseph A. Johnson Jr., B.Div.’54, Ph.D.’58 (awarded posthumously)
  • Becca Stevens, M.Div.’90

Graduate Department of Religion Award: Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, Ph.D.’63


  • Charlotte Hotopp Zachary, Oberlin B.D.’57


  • Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, Oberlin B.D.’40


  • Dr. Fred Craddock, Ph.D.’64


  • Dr. James Lawson, D.’60


Explore Story Topics