Hector Avalos

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Hector Avalos
Hector Avalos.jpg
Born (1958-10-08) 8 October 1958 (age 58)
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico
Residence Ames IA
Fields Religious Studies
Institutions Iowa State University
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Divinity School
University of Arizona
Known for Opposition to the intelligent design movement, opposition to religion and theism

Hector Avalos (born October 8, 1958) is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion.[1] He is an atheist activist and advocate of secular humanist ethics.[2] and a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist.[2]

He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University (1991), a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School (1985), and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1982.

Avalos arrived at Iowa State University in the Fall of 1993 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship (1991–93) in the departments of Anthropology and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1996 Avalos was named Professor of the Year at Iowa State University, where he was also named a Master Teacher for 2003–04. Other awards include The Early Achievement in Research and Creative Activity Award (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1996), and the Outstanding Professor Award (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1996).[3] In 2016, he was awarded The Regents Faculty Excellence Award for his work in founding and developing the U.S. Latino/a Studies Program at Iowa State University.

In 1994, Avalos founded and later became first director of the US Latino/a Studies Program at Iowa State University. The program is dedicated to teaching courses about U.S. Latinos, who are defined as people living in the U.S. who trace their roots to the Spanish speaking countries of Latin America.

Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007. Avalos co-authored a statement against intelligent design in 2005, which was eventually signed by over 130 faculty members at Iowa State University. That faculty statement became a model for other statements at the University of Northern Iowa and at the University of Iowa.[4] Gonzalez and Avalos are both featured in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008).

Research and publication[edit]

Avalos' first major work was Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (1995), published in the Harvard Semitic Monograph series. The book was the first to combine systematically critical biblical studies with medical anthropology to reconstruct the health care systems of Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel.[5] In Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (1999) Avalos outlined the thesis that Christianity began, in part, as a health care reform movement that sought to address the problems voiced by patients in the Greco-Roman world.[6]

Since 2004, Avalos had turned his attention to the study of U.S. Latinos, the name given to people who live in the United States and trace their ancestry to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. Latinos are now the largest "minority" in the United States, numbering over 40 million persons. By then, Avalos also served as General Editor of Religion in the Americas book series for Brill Publishers.[citation needed] He was the editor of, and a contributor to, Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience (2004), which aimed to be the first general textbook on U.S. Latino/a religions. It was unusual because it covered groups such as Dominicans and Central Americans, which most other books on Latino religion usually overlook.[citation needed]

His book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005) used scarce resource theory to explain the role of religion in violence. Avalos argues that all conflict is usually the result of some resource that is either scarce or perceived to be scarce. This could range from love in a family to energy on a global scale. When religion causes violence, it does so because it has created a new scarce resource somewhere. Such scarce resources could include sacred space ("The Holy Land"), group privileging, and eternal life. Violence may result from the effort to maintain or acquire these religiously-created resources, and people may be willing to give or take life in pursuit of these resources. However, unlike scarcities that are verifiable (e.g., water, oil), resources such as eternal life are unverifiable and created entirely by religious belief. Therefore, when one kills for religious reasons, one is usually trading actual lives for resources that are either not scarce or cannot even be verified to exist. He made the further argument that religious violence is always immoral, whereas secular violence is only sometimes immoral. The book also offered a scathing critique of religionist scholars who defended biblical violence and genocide, as well as a critique of the thesis that the Nazi Holocaust was an example of atheistic violence. Avalos and his book were featured on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation on August 22, 2005. This established his position as a contemporary critic of religion.

The same year, Avalos published Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature (2005), which was the first systematic study of how Latino authors address issues of religion and specific religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, African Religions, and Indigenous religions).

In 2007 Avalos published The End of Biblical Studies (2007) where he argued that academic biblical scholarship was primarily an apologetic enterprise meant to provide the illusion that the Bible was still a culturally and morally superior authority. He critiqued numerous fields (translation, archaeology, history, textual criticism, literary aesthetics) arguing the discipline was permeated with pro-religionist biases.

This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, published also in 2007, saw Avalos returning to health care studies. He contributed to, and co-edited (with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper), an anthology that explores how biblical authors conceptualize the human body and deviations from "normative" views of the human body.[7]

In 2011, Avalos published Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (Sheffield Phoenix Press), which explores the relationship between Christianity and slavery and seeks to deconstruct the claim that reliance on biblical and Christian ethics was a main factor in the abolition of slavery in Western civilizations.[8]

The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics was published in 2015. In it, Avalos offers his criticism of Jesus and argues that he should not be considered a role model in contemporary ethical development. In addition, Avalos critiques the field of New Testament ethics as a religionist and ethnocentric enterprise, which is part of an ecclesial-academic complex to promote an agenda.

In addition to books, Avalos has published dozens of articles in peer reviewed and semi-scholarly periodicals (e.g., Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Traditio), as well as in standard reference books such as The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (1993), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (1996), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000), and The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (2006–2009). The subjects have ranged from Astronomy and the Bible to targumic textual criticism.


  • The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015) ISBN 978-1-909697-73-7
  • Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (Sheffield,UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011) ISBN 978-1-907534-28-7
  • This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies (co-edited with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper) (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007) ISBN 1-58983-186-1.
  • The End of Biblical Studies (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007) ISBN 1-59102-536-2.
  • Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005) ISBN 0-687-33045-9.
  • Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005) ISBN 1-59102-284-3
  • Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience, (Editor; Boston: Brill, 2004) ISBN 0-391-04240-8.
  • Se puede saber si Dios existe? [Can One Know if God Exists?]. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2003) ISBN 1-59102-043-3.
  • Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, (Peabody: Mass: Hendrickson Press, 1999) ISBN 1-56563-337-7.
  • Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (Harvard Semitic Monographs 54: Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995) ISBN 0-7885-0098-8.
  • A chapter called, "Why Biblical studies must end" p107 in The End of Christianity edited by John W. Loftus, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011) ISBN 978-1-61614-413-5.


  1. ^ "Hector Avalos Publications". Iowa State University. 2007. Archived from the original on 201--06-10. Retrieved 2007-12-17.  Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  2. ^ a b Langfeldt, Bryan. "Hector Avalos: An Unlikely Atheist". Iowa State Daily. Iowa State Daily. Retrieved July 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived August 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Vance, Tom; Krug, Teresa. "Petition gains UNI support, denies theory is scientific". Iowa State Daily. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Noegel, Scott. "Review of Health Care in the Ancient Near East". Jewish Studies. Association for Jewish Studies. 22: 107–109. JSTOR 1486871. 
  6. ^ Shelton, W. Brian. "Review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity". Journal of Early Christian Studies. Journal of Early Christian Studies. 
  7. ^ "Society of Biblical Literature". Secure.aidcvt.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08. 
  8. ^ "Sheffield Phoenix Press - Display Book". Sheffieldphoenix.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08. 

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