Chowan University Religion Professor travels the world to gather content for book & classroom

Published 1:21 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Amanda Bradshaw Sharpe
University Relations

MURFREESBORO – University of Edinburgh, Scotland. University of Cambridge, England. Chowan University, Murfreesboro, NC. What do these three Universities have in common? The better question to ask is, who?

Dr. Paul R. Gilliam III, better known as Trey, began his education at Gardner-Webb University, receiving his Bachelor of Arts. He went on to earn his Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University, and a Master of Arts from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. While working on his second master degree at University of North Carolina, Dr. Gilliam decided to pursue his PhD. He was encouraged to seek out programs with professors whose scholarship overlapped with his interest, which led him to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

He began his PhD studies in Early Christianity, a field also referred to as patristics from the Greek word meaning Father. Most early Christian texts were written by men, today known collectively as the “Church Fathers.”

The chance to study in Scotland was not only a great opportunity for him, but for his entire family. It gave them all the chance to expand their horizons and provide a natural form of education. His wife, Lou Ann, and daughter, Matty Grace, had a great time living and studying abroad too. Living abroad gave them all the chance to experience different cultures, and not just Scottish culture. Matty Grace had a best friend who was Muslim, and to this day she is passionate about the appropriate representation of the faith, and gets upset over the stereotyping of people of Muslim faith.

Dr. Gilliam describes Edinburgh as a big-small city. While there are about half a million people, the city is very walkable.

“There is no place I’d rather be,” he says.

Dr. Gilliam later applied for a fellowship at the University of Cambridge in England to study where William Whiston (1667-1752) worked and studied. Whiston is the topic of Dr. Gilliam’s book in progress. He was able to live where Whiston lived, walk where he walked, and visit churches he preached in. Through the Cambridge as well as the British Library in London, he had access to books that belonged to Whiston, with his original notes preserved in the margins.

Why would someone with such international experience choose Chowan University in the small town of Murfreesboro? First, the size and scope of the field dictates that religion professors must go where they can find employment. But more importantly, Chowan felt familiar.

Dr. Gilliam explains “I know the language and the environment of small Christian institutions of higher education. It was very beneficial to my own success, so I feel like I’m a good fit at Chowan, and in a lot of ways my background prepared me to do this.”

Dr. Gilliam, who also serves as interim pastor to First Baptist Church Ahoskie, has been at Chowan since 2011.

“Chowan is a teaching University, more than a research University,” shares Dr. Gilliam, whose teaching load is four courses per semester. “In light of who we are, I’m just grateful for the support I’ve had with my research from the administration.”

Dr. Gilliam was recently granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. No doubt his scholarship, as well as his teaching, was a consideration in that process.

Chowan offers faculty the option to apply for a sabbatical, to be relieved of duties for a semester to focus on research. Dr. Gilliam applied and was accepted upcoming spring semester so he can work on his book. He acknowledges the sabbatical option as another perk of working for Chowan and another way Chowan supports research and faculty.

“Even though we are a teaching university, I have found the administration to be supportive of my research endeavor. Certainly, my department is, my colleagues are. We celebrate with one another when we have publications and success.”

Although Chowan is not research focused, and Dr. Gilliam does not have to “publish or perish” as he puts it, he is still inspired to continue his research. When he arrived at Chowan, he had some projects and ideas he wanted to pursue and used his summers to write and publish a few articles. He has been published alongside many other authors of internationally known schools. His success ignited his fire to continue his research.

Additionally, he explains there is an intimate relationship between research and teaching. His research makes him more knowledgeable and provides a natural transition into the classroom, and allows him to model to the student’s intellectual curiosity.

The matrix of success, supportive colleagues, and administrative support have all inspired Dr. Gilliam to continue in research and publication.

Currently Dr. Gilliam is working on two books. His doctoral dissertation, Ignatius of Antioch and the Arian Controversy, has already been accepted for publication and he is now completing the index. His next book, William Whiston and the Apostolic Constitution Completing the Reformation is in the rough draft stages. This book was started in Cambridge. Once the first book is turned in, Dr. Gilliam will be able to give his entire focus to the second book.

Building relationships with students is what Dr. Gilliam enjoys the most about being a professor at Chowan. Recently, he was able assist a student in arranging a marriage proposal. He explains this experience as having a front row seat to a monumental aspect of one of his students lives.