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William Martin

William Martin

William C. Martin (Ph.D, Harvard, 1969), is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor Emeritus of Religion and Public Policy in the Department of Sociology at Rice. Since his retirement from teaching in June 2005, he serves as the Chavanne Senior Fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice. His areas of specialization include religion, criminology, and issues related to drug use and drug policy. He has been a professor at Rice since 1968.

Bill Martin received a number of teaching awards during his years as a professor, including the George R. Brown Life Honor Award, which made him ineligible for most additional awards given by Rice. At age sixteen, he decided to become a college professor as a consequence of exposure to particularly inspiring and dedicated teachers he encountered during his freshman year in college. Now in his fiftieth year at Rice, with a half-time appointment at the Baker Institute, he still regards it as a fine decision.

After several years of experience as a boy preacher, Bill Martin attended Abilene (Texas) Christian University, where he received B.A. (1958) and M.A. (1960) degrees in Biblical Studies and taught for one year as a graduate assistant. He then attended Harvard Divinity School, where he received the B.D. degree in 1963. In 1969, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard, in a program known as Religion and Society, a joint effort between the Divinity School and the Department of Social Relations. His dissertation, Christians in Conflict: The Role of the Clergy in Racial Conflict in Rochester, New York, was prepared under the direction of Harvey Cox, Joseph Fichter, and Thomas Pettigrew. At Harvey Cox's suggestion, he submitted an article based on his thesis to The Atlantic Monthly, which published it as the lead article in its December 1967 issue. Flushed with the pleasure of having his work read by large numbers, Bill Martin began to follow an unusual career path of publishing mainly in high-quality magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper's, Esquire, and Texas Monthly, for which he wrote a three-year monthly series of articles on Texas churches that led to his being the subject of a 60 Minutes segment in September 1979.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Professor Martin concentrated mainly on religious broadcasters and was one of the first academicians to give serious attention to what came to be known as the Electronic Church. At the end of the 1970s, this led naturally to increased attention to fundamentalist involvement in politics and the rise of the movement known as the Religious Right. This work culminated, after dozens of articles, in his writing With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, the companion volume to the PBS mini-series of the same name and for which he served as chief consultant. A revised edition of both the book and the video series appeared in the summer of 2005. His writings on various aspects of evangelical and fundamentalist religion also led to his being given the opportunity write A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, regarded as the most authoritative biography of the famed evangelist. An updated version of this book, with four new chapters, was released by Zondervan in February 2018. In addition to these historical and sociological publications, Professor Martin also wrote My Prostate and Me: Dealing with Prostate Cancer, an account of his own successful bout with this disease. As a result, he has appeared on more than 150 radio and television programs to discuss prostate cancer and regularly counsels with men and families touched by the disease.

More recently, Bill Martin has taken an active role in the Baker Institute, organizing and chairing programs and conferences on the impact of religion, particularly various forms of fundamentalism, on public policy, and on ways to reduce the harms associated with drug misuse and drug policy.

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