Ellen Frances Davis


Passionate teacher, ethically engaged scholar, Anglican preacher, biblical interpreter, faithful mentor. Your scholarship brings theological understanding and biblical studies to questions of the public good such as sustainable agriculture, community health, environmental crisis and interfaith relations.

You have earned degrees at University of California, Berkeley; Church Divinity School of the Pacific; and Yale University and you have had teaching appointments at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Yale Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary. Currently, you are the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.

Your many books display your charitable reading of Holy Scripture, interpretation that honors the text, and belief that faithful reading offers wisdom for the present. After a graduate student pointed out that you mention the land in every lecture, you began to pay attention to it in the Bible. “You can’t go more than a page or two in the Old Testament without coming across mention of the land, or food, or water, or farm animals,” you discovered. Placing your careful reading of the Old Testament in conversation with Wendell Berry and others, your book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible invites Christians to eat, farm, and live in new and holy ways.

Author of Preaching the Luminous Word: Biblical Sermons and Homiletical Essays, you speak of biblical preaching as letting the biblical story provide exemplification, letting the brightness of the scripture shine a light to draw the hearers forward. “The bible discloses a world to us, a world with a higher ceiling, in a way. The sky is brighter in the world that the Bible discloses. It discloses that possibility through language, through words. Slow down and pay close attention to the words…you may see the unexpected.”

A revered teacher in all the schools where you have taught, your students from decades ago, many of who are now professors themselves, remember the way your course on the Psalms stimulated the mind and nourished the soul. Your commitment to justice and your love of students drew you to the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan, where you have developed theological education,
community health, and sustainable agriculture for those communities since 2004. Through your
writings you have inspired and formed students at Seminary of the Southwest. When told of your coming to preach this commencement, a graduate, referring to your seminal article in the Anglican Theological Review, exclaimed, “Critical Traditioning changed my life!”

In recognition of your significant accomplishments in biblical scholarship, ethics, preaching, and spiritual formation, of your contributions to the education of and mentoring for theology students, and of your influence on your many colleagues and friends across the globe, the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest presents to you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Austin, Texas         May 23, 2017