Virginia Garrard-Burnett


2016 Durstan R McDonald Teaching Award

Virginia Garrard-Burnett

Historian, author, professor, researcher. Through your research, teaching, presentations and publications, you have shone a light on religion in Latin America and on the history of Central America.

Granddaughter of an Episcopal bishop who was consecrated by John Hines, niece of an Episcopal priest who wrote the history of the church in Nebraska, and daughter of an Episcopal priest who served parishes in Texas until his death 20 years ago, you are sensitive to the transformative power of religion and recognize it in the people you encounter.

You began your graduate studies at Tulane University focused on Mexico. But as you learned about the civil wars in Central America in the late 1970s, your interest shifted. You visited Guatemala and fell in love with the country that was experiencing a time of terrible violence. “It was terrifying, but at the same time it was exciting and invigorating and I felt like I had found a home.” A summer project of community education in Guatemala brought you close to the violence when the labor organizers scheduled to meet with you and your colleagues were murdered on the road. You reflected, “It was horrible, but it put meaning in my life. It felt like it was something really worth thinking about.”

You have followed the rise of evangelical religions in Guatemala, a historically Catholic country. You recount driving through a particularly dangerous area in the mountains and encountering people walking in the rain with joy on their faces as they played musical instruments. It was a time of war, but they were on their way to a tent meeting. “And it really struck me that if you could just tell from afar that something transformative had happened to them, it must be something worth paying attention to. So that’s what got me started.”

A member of the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin since 1990, teaching in the departments of History and Religious Studies, and a faculty affiliate of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, you were recently chosen to be the new director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.

For your tremendous accomplishments in scholarship, teaching and publication, Seminary of the Southwest is honored to present you with the 2016 Durstan R McDonald Teaching Award.

Cynthia Briggs Kittredge                                                                                                      Nathan Jennings
Dean and President                                                                                                               Faculty Secretary