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Nathan A. Scott Jr. papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS 16731

Content Description

This collection contains the papers of Nathan A. Scott Jr. (1925-2006), a religious scholar, founding figure in the field of Religion and Literature, and professor at the University of Virginia from 1976 to 1990. He was the first Black faculty member in the Religious Studies department and one of the first tenured Black professors at the University of Virginia. The bulk of the materials are articles on religious and literature topics from colleagues in the field, often signed or sent with notes attached. Also included are some pastoral letters, and teaching materials including vocabulary lists, syllabi, bibliographies, and lists of faculty, students, and conference attendees. Box one contains articles, notes and poems. Box two contains Church papers, and course materials from the University of Chicago.


  • Creation: c.1956-2001


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

Nathan A. Scott Jr. (24 April 1925 – 20 December 2006) was an American literary scholar, theologian, and professor. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Nathan Alexander and Maggie Martin Scott. He contributed to the modern field of theology and literature and co-established the well-known Ph.D. program in that field at the University of Chicago. In 1976, he was the first Black faculty member in the Religious Studies department and one of the first tenured Black professors at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Scott studied "the works of literary figures, both secular and religious, from such pagan greats as Camus and Sartre, Stevens and Frost, to such Christian writers as Eliot and Auden, Graham Greene and Fyodor Dostoevsky."

Some reviewers and commentators of his work, expressed surprise when they learned that Scott was an African American. When asked about this racial characterization, he responded, "... Virtually no phase of American cultural enterprise is uninvaded by the racial animus that still ruinously indwells our national life, and I have not escaped its lash." Dr. Scott also fielded comments from his "Black confreres" pointing out that he studied "dead white European males" instead of following the old way of "scurrying off to the South and serving his people" with theology. While Scott has written at length on Black writers, most especially in the long chapter on "Black Literature" (The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing) (1979) edited by Daniel Hoffman, he did not specialize in what is spoken of as "the Black Experience." Scott labored relentlessly to establish an innovative and structured program in the interdisciplinary study of both religion and literature. Himself a specialist in the fields of modern theology, modern literature, and literary theory, he pioneered in the study of literary figures, history, and theory in relation to the Christian tradition of the West. His work can be seen as a model "in which literary texts may be appropriately incorporated into theological discourse."For two decades at Chicago, hundreds of students from various departments had attended his classes, and by the time of his departure for Virginia, more than forty students had taken their doctorates under his tutelage.

Scott's innovation in literary criticism was to reject the New Critics' idea that poems should be studied as autonomous objects and to remind scholars that authors' personal beliefs are crucial for understanding their texts.In this way, he also returned criticism to a study of the way literature represents the outside world.

Scott earned his B.A. at the University of Michigan in 1944, his B.D. at Union Theological Seminary in 1946, and his Ph.D at Columbia University in 1949, having studied under Lionel Trilling, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Jacques Barzun. He served as dean of the chapel at Virginia Union University and was an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. He taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C.; University of Chicago from 1955 to 1976, and the University of Virginia from 1976-1990 where he was the William R. Kenan Professor of Religious Studies, was chair of the Department, and retired Professor Emeritus. He also served as a President of the American Academy of Religion and held honorary doctorates from Brown University, Philadelphia Divinity School, NorthWestern University, University of Michigan, Ripon College, Wesleyan College, and the University of the South.

Sources: Nathan A. Scott. Wikipedia. Retrieved 12/01/22

Talk by Nathan A. Scott, Jr. "A Ramble on a Road Taken,"followed by an Interview with him. /Christianity and Literature Vol. 43, No. 2 (Winter 1994), 203-12.

Burham, William D. "Nathan Scott’s Literary Criticism and Fundamental Theology" Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers; New edition (October 11, 2006)

Nathan A. Scott Obituary. The Daily Progress. 2006


.75 Cubic Feet (One legal document box and one half legal document box)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was transferred from Dr. Jennifer Geddes, Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Religious Studies, to the Small Special Collections Library on 31 May 2022.

Nathan A. Scott, Jr. papers
Ellen Welch
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Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States