Dewey Diaz Wallace, Jr.

Dr. Dewey Diaz Wallace, Jr.

Faculty: Emeriti

Professor Emeritus of Religion

Dewey Diaz Wallace, Jr. was born in Chicago and moved to the small California desert town of Thousand Palms early in his childhood. There he attended a one room school and for several years was the only person in his grade. He recalls, “There was an old Encyclopedia Britannica in the back of the school room, and I spent a lot of time looking at and reading it, educating myself, and it gave me a life-long fascination with encyclopedias. It’s one reason that I’ve written as many encyclopedia articles as I have.”

Wallace attended Whitworth College in Spokane, and majored in English with minors in history and philosophy. He remembers particularly Clarence Simpson, “the best teacher I had anywhere in my academic career,” who focused on the history of ideas and asked his students to think about the ways in which literature reflected changes in human culture, an idea that influenced Wallace’s future research. He asserts, “The ways in which religion has influenced culture and been influenced by the cultures in which it finds itself has long fascinated me…It shapes culture and is shaped by culture, and that’s a point I make over and over again to my students.”

Wallace then pursued a Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. There, he was especially interested in the history of Christianity, particularly in the 16th - 19th centuries. He continued his studies in the Religion Department of Princeton University where he earned his Ph.D., focusing on religion in the United States and British Christianity from the reformation on. His dissertation, "The Life and Thought of John Owen to 1660: A Study of the Significance of Calvinist Theology in English Puritanism,” developed themes that appeared in his first book, The Pilgrims (1977) and especially in subsequent books such as Puritans and Predestination (1982) and Shapers of English Calvinism 1660-1714 (2011) which challenged formerly entrenched assumptions about Calvinism and the English Reformation. Wallace has also brought previously neglected primary sources and historical figures to light in articles such as "Puritan and Anglican: The Interpretation of Christ's Descent into Hell in Elizabethan Theology" (1978), and in biographical entries in reference works such as the 24 volume American National Biography (1999). He also directed sixteen Ph. D. dissertations in the Religion and History departments’ joint program in American religious history.

Wallace came to the George Washington University in August of 1963, and recalls that “within less than two weeks of having arrived in DC …[I] joined the March on Washington. So, I heard the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream Speech” and was in that demonstration . . .  a moving experience…that I’ve thought a lot about since.”

In the early 1960s, the Religion department at GW consisted of only three full time professors. Wallace remembers, “One was Robert Jones, a biblical scholar with a Yale Ph.D. who had worked on the Dead Sea scrolls, and he was a wonderful mentor.” Of Jones, himself, and Harry Yeide, Wallace says, “The three of us formed strong bonds of friendship in a department that was so small.” Wallace took two turns as the chair of the Religion department, from 1991-1993 and again from 2009-2011, and was elected to the Faculty Senate for the 1992-1994 term.

Wallace enjoyed teaching and was awarded the Oscar and Shoshanna Trachtenberg Prize for Teaching in 2007. Among Wallace's favorite courses to teach was a quartet of courses that traced the History of Christianity through four periods.  Of teaching, Wallace says “Someone once said that there’s no point in answering questions that people aren’t asking…I try to find out what students are curious about and . . . love a class in which they ask a lot of questions.”

In retirement, Wallace is conducting research for a book tentatively called Puritans and Preachers, which he describes as being “about the uses of Puritanism for the descendants of Puritanism.” 

Education

B.A., Whitworth College, 1957 summa Cum Laude
B.D., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1960
M.A., Princeton University, 1962
Ph.D., Princeton University, 1965 

Audio Clip from Interview