Graduate Theological Union

Scholar, Author, Teacher, Administrator — Above All, Mentor

President James A. Donahue, Terrence Tilley, Dean Arthur Holder
President James A. Donahue, Terrence Tilley,
Dean Arthur Holder

Dr. Terrence Tilley, Ph.D. ’76, professor and chair of the department of Theology at Fordham University, and the GTU’s 2008 Alumnus of the Year, feels called to mentor. It is, he says, a part of his vocation in theology: “I get immense satisfaction if others are able to thrive because of a contribution I’ve made,” he says. Tilley is a prolific author and scholar, a dedicated professor recognized by students and colleagues for excellence in teaching, and a gifted administrator. He seems simply to weave mentoring into each of his many roles. His drive to help may have started when he was an undergraduate, working his way through the University of San Francisco as a nursing-orderly at St. San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Hospital.

The introduction to his 1991 book The Evils of Theodicy begins: “I have taken many bodies down to the morgue.” Tilley vividly recalls the hands-on, physically and emotionally demanding work. Seeing how patients, families, and caregivers coped with suffering inspired his later work — including his 2008 book, The Disciples’ Jesus — on the question of how we account for suffering in the world.

Throughout his academic career Tilley has distinguished himself as a scholar who pushes himself and his students to consider their work in the context of real life experience, and to ask the “sowhat” questions. For Tilley this has often meant exploring areas of study outside his own specialty, something he says the GTU encouraged. “The GTU prepared me to engage in ‘little interventions’ in fields that are not my own. I’ve used a lot of literary work and biblical scholarship in my teaching, something I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing if my training hadn’t prepared me to go out on a limb and say things that philosophical theologians don’t usually say.”

“I get immense satisfaction if others are able to thrive because of a contribution I’ve made…”

While he describes the ability to look at questions from several perspectives as “a GTU gift,” it is clearly also the gift of experience, openness, and a long career. As an instructor for required undergraduate theology courses, he teaches outside his specialty. As a result, he says he’s had to learn things he wasn’t trained in. This, he says, helps him see questions and issues that others, trained in that specialty, might overlook. And his many years in the academy have given him resources he didn’t have earlier in his career. “Much of my current work,” he says, “I wouldn’t have been able to do ten years ago. Becoming an old fogy has its advantages!”

Another gift Tilley says he received from the GTU is camaraderie, which he brings to his work as a scholar, teacher, and administrator. “Theology is a team sport,” he says. He recalls intellectual pursuit at the GTU as a joint activity among students and faculty. And: “I remember a group of us on Le Conte throwing Frisbees over the heads of the National Guard during the spring 1971 protests against the Vietnam War.

“Now what gets me out of bed in the morning are those times when, as department chair, a colleague comes in with a problem or idea, and I can help solve the problem or focus the idea. What makes my day is helping my colleagues, students, and faculty flourish.”

See Terry Tilley’s
newest book:
The Disciples’ Jesus:
Christology as
Reconciling Practice
Orbis Books
(October 2008).

Read about other

The Disciples' Jesus