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Religion and philosophy professor, scholar earns 2021 Distinguished Faculty Award

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Posted on Friday, April 30, 2021

Dr. Bryan S. Rennie, professor of religion and philosophy at Westminster College and one of the leading authorities on the 20th century Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade, has earned the College’s 2021 Distinguished Faculty Award.

In nominating Rennie for the award—which was announced virtually via Facebook Live on April 30—former students, past and present Westminster colleagues and various scholars of religion from around the globe cited Rennie’s intellectual passion and accomplishments, his dedication to student success and his leadership among colleagues.

“Irresistible passion, intellectual hospitality, restless mind. These traits provide the contours of a consummate professor, an accomplished scholar and a tireless friend and colleague,” said Westminster College Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Dr. Jamie McMinn. “We appreciate Dr. Bryan Rennie’s restless devotion to truth, inspiring us to live the values of the liberal arts each day.”

Rennie, who joined the Westminster faculty in 1992, has offered courses on the history and philosophy of religions, method and theory in religious studies and the study of religion and art. He has chaired the Department of Religion, History, Philosophy and Classics and has been a member of numerous faculty committees. For 15 years through his tenure as the Vira I. Heinz Chair of Religion—an endowed chair funded by the Heinz Foundation— Rennie brought leading scholars, literary figures, musicians and Buddhist monks to Westminster’s campus. He also chaired the organizing committee of Westminster’s Bridges to Israel Conference in 2011.

“Dr. Rennie did not just teach me how to think about religious studies, but how to think about thinking itself,” said 2012 alumnus and former student John Allison, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in religion at Rice University and specializes in comparative religions, philosophy of religions and comparative metaphysics. “In this way, he has proven himself to be a philosopher in the proper sense of the term: a ‘lover of wisdom.’”

“He is known on this campus as a sensitive and nurturing, yet demanding and rigorous, teacher who cares deeply about student learning and the role of religious studies in the liberal arts,” said colleague Dr. Russell Martin, professor of history at Westminster. “He is a role model in each sphere of our professional lives: teaching, research and service.”

Rennie is recognized as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Eliade, who helped establish the comparative study of religion in the mid-20th century. His scholarly research on Eliade led to authoring four books—“Reconstructing Eliade: Making Sense of Religion,” “Changing Religious Worlds: The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade,” “Mircea Eliade: A Critical Reader” and “The International Eliade”—as well as numerous articles, encyclopedic entries and book reviews.

Rennie, whose current scholarly interests lie in the relationship between religion and art, published his latest book, “An Ethology of Religion and Art: Belief as Behavior,” in 2020.
A member of various academic organizations and editorial boards, Rennie was also the chief organizer of the North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy in 2008, 2010 and 2015 and served as vice president and program chair of the North American Association for the Study of Religion. He has been the keynote speaker at the Korean Association for the History of Religion and the Association for the Study of Eastern Christianity. He received the Mircea Eliade Centennial Medal from the President of Romania and the Hereditary Imperial Medal from H.I.H., The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.  

Rennie, who will retire in May, earned his undergraduate degree, master’s and doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Distinguished Faculty Award, established in 1990, is Westminster’s highest teaching honor. It is presented annually to a tenured faculty member who has, over a sustained period of time, demonstrated characteristics of the most outstanding faculty—intellectual vitality, effective communication skills, the ability to motivate or inspire compassion and concern for student success, collegiality and leadership.