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Waite Willis, Jr., Ph.D.

Professor of Religion

Department Chair

The Pendergrass Chair in Religion


Teaching is the heart of the matter — a process of transforming students and professors into persons possessing knowledge, wisdom, critical reason, and moral judgment, all proved in the life of care for others. Using enthusiasm and humor, moving around, calling students by name, encouraging discussion, teaching compels students to engage in the classroom, department lounge, and my office. Teaching is forming relationships with students, as we discover new ways of life and being in the world.

-Waite Willis, Jr.

Edge Hall - 320




Dr. Waite Willis is the Edward J. Pendergrass Professor of Religion at Florida Southern College, his alma mater, and also serves as the chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy. For over twenty years, Dr. Willis has also been a professor for the summer Course of Study program at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University in Atlanta, where he earned his Masters of Divinity. Dr. Willis earned his Ph.D. in constructive theology from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and served for twelve years as a theologian on the Board of Ordained Ministry for the Florida Conference. He currently serves on the Florida Conference Board of Directors for Camping and retreat Ministries. Dr. Willis is also a part-time staff person at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, where he serves as the director of Contemporary Worship and leads the music and worship at the 9:30 service, which he led in forming in 1995 and which currently averages 800 in attendance.

Professor Willis is the author of the book Theism, Atheism, and the Doctrine of the Trinity, co-author of the book Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Stunning Concept, particularly the section on "A Theology of Resurrection: Its Meaning for Jesus, Us, and God"; and author of a book chapter on "The Archaeology of Faith and the Archaeology of Palestine: Between a Rock and a Hard Place". He has given academic papers, as well as presentations and lectures in the church and community.

At Florida Southern, Dr. Willis has been involved in faculty governance and is active in student life. He chaired the committee and wrote the policy on faculty governance and chaired the college committee and wrote the policy for the reestablishment of tenure. He is faculty advisor for Theta Alpha Kappa, the national religion honorary, and the Theta Chi social fraternity. He also leads the May Option Study Abroad trips to places such as Italy, Turkey and Greece, Scotland and England, and Israel.

Professor Willis has been honored at Florida Southern College with many awards for excellence in the classroom, including the Phi Eta Sigma Lover of Wisdom Award, Phi Eta Sigma faculty membership for excellence in the classroom, the Omicron Delta Kappa Outstanding Teacher Award, and the Ben and Janice Wade Outstanding Teacher Award. He was honored in 2012 by his selection for the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Candler School of Theology, Emory University.


  • Ph.D., Theological Studies, Emory University
  • Master of Divinity, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
  • B.A., Mathematics/English, Florida Southern College


  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Candler School of Theology, Emory University - 2012
  • Awarded Tenure (new policy) - 2011
  • Selected for Summer Instructional Technology Institute - 2009
  • Omicron Delta Kappa Outstanding Teacher Award - 2002
  • Ben and Janice Wade Teaching Excellence Award - 2002
  • Edward J. Pendergrass Chair in Religion - 2001
  • Presidential nominee for Outstanding Educator Award given by The United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education - 1999
  • Phi Eta Sigma Lover of Wisdom Award, Outstanding Teaching - 1995


"Blessed are You Poor; Woe to You Rich: God's Revolution for the Poor and Hungry" at Hunger and Poverty, The Florida Center for Science and Religion Fall Lecture Series, September, 2008 (120 persons)

"True and False Faith: Reflections on the Meaning of the Youth Camping Ministry," Keynote speaker at the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp, August (400 persons), 2008

"The Essential Difference of Christianity" at My Neighbor's Faith: Developing Mutual Respect Through Understanding. Lecturer and panelist with an Imam and Rabbi. St. Petersburg College, March, 2008 (350 persons)

Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), Jackson, TN, June 5-6, 2007; 1,000 people present: Moses Call Story: The Nature of God, the Holy Name, Transformation and Mission. Mark's Messianic Secret: The Suffering Messiah, Salvation, and True Discipleship

Tennessee Annual Conference of the UMC, Nashville, TN, June 11-13, 2007;1,500 people present: Call Story: The Nature of God, the Holy Name, Transformation and Mission. Mark's Messianic Secret: The Suffering Messiah, Salvation, and True Discipleship; The Doctrine of the Trinity is Easy to Understand: The Open, Inclusive God

Moderator, Panel on Gender and Sex in Science and Religion, Florida Center for Science and Religion Fall Series, 2007

Scientific Cosmology and Christian Faith; Lecture at Florida Center for Science and Religion fall series, October, 2006.

"Confusion about Truth: Why Jerry Falwell and Carl Sagan are Blood Brothers", Major at the Florida Center for Science and Religion Annual Meeting and Symposium on Theology and Evolution, January 29, 2006.

The DaVinci Code: A Theological and Historical Critique, First United Methodist Church, June 2006.

"The Passion of the Christ: A Biblical and Theological Analysis", A Community Forum on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" First United Methodist Church, 2004.

"Just War Theory and Possible War with Iraq", Florida Southern College Forum on the U.S. Conflict with Iraq, 2003.