Endowed Chair Makes History

westmont honored historian rick pointer by installing him in the newly created fletcher jones foundation chair in the social sciences

Richard Pointer (center) is the first recipient of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair in the Social Sciences. His brother, Steven Pointer (left) and Joel Carpenter participated in the installation ceremony

Richard Pointer (center) is the first recipient of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair in the Social Sciences. His brother, Steven Pointer (left) and Joel Carpenter participated in the installation ceremony

A special convocation service March 4 inaugurated the Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair in the Social Sciences and installed Richard Pointer, professor of history, in the endowed position. It’s the first rotating faculty chair established at the college. Every four years a different deserving professor within the social science division will hold the chair.

At the ceremony, Steven Pointer, professor of history at Trinity International University, introduced Richard, who is his brother. Joel Carpenter, director of the Calvin College Nagel Institute, delivered the charge. “Our Christian faith needs communities of learning like this one,” Carpenter said. “It needs a transformation of scholarship within them, moving in a more ‘world Christian’ direction.”

Later in the day, Carpenter and Steven Pointer participated in a panel discussion, “What is History Good For?” Marianne Robins, Westmont professor of history, served as the moderator, and Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College and a former provost and professor at Westmont, also contributed to the discussion.

The day concluded with a dedicatory lecture by Rick Pointer, “The Wait and Weight of History: Reflections from a Life in the Past.” “Historians can do nothing to change what actually happened in the past,” Pointer said. “But they can endeavor to do justice to all of their subjects and perhaps have a special responsibility to do it to those peoples who experienced so very little of it in their own day.”

“Rick has distinguished himself by his extraordinary contributions to Westmont and to the broader academy in the areas of teaching and scholarly research,” says Warren Rogers, interim academic dean. “He certainly has earned this recognition.”

Pointer, an American historian, joined Westmont’s history department in 1994 and was social science division Teacher of the Year in 1997 and 2003. He has written two books, “Protestant Pluralism and the New York Experience” and “Encounters of the Spirit: Native Americans and European Colonial Religion,” as well as many articles. He graduated from Houghton College and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University.

The Fletcher Jones Foundation was incorporated in 1969 by Fletcher Jones, co-founder of Computer Sciences Corporation. After the death of Fletcher Jones in 1972, the original trustees of the Foundation decided that support of the private colleges and universities in California should be their primary emphasis. That policy has been reaffirmed by subsequent trustees and continues to this day.

Charge to the Candidate

An Excerpt from Joel Carpenter’s Remarks
Rick’s latest book, “Encounters of the Spirit: Native Americans and European Colonial Religion,” does a surprising turn on how historians interpret a critical American theme: settlers’ encounter with Native Americans. The story has been steeped in victimhood, as well it should be, but Rick shows the Indians’ influence and agency, too, in the most unlikely of realms: religion! Studies of Christian missions have usually been all about the ways in which the missionized folk accepted or rejected the message they received. But Rick does a delightful turnabout on the topic, and shows how the Indians influenced the settlers’ faith, how the Europeans’ Christianity was subtly changed. That is a masterful stroke, and a piece of scholarly work well worth emulating.

So my friends, you have chosen well in naming Rick Pointer as the first recipient of this chair. He has done fresh, original, exemplary work in American religious history, and has done it with gentle grace, patient and thorough scholarship, and with an eye to the surprising nature of God’s work in the world.

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