The Theologian-in-Residence lecture series is held annually on Tuesdays in February. The sessions focus on a theological topic or other issue of interest to church leaders and lay people.

The series began in 1991 and has explored such topics as music and worship, Christianity and popular culture, reflections on the Trinity, religion in Appalachia, John Calvin and the Reformed tradition, God and athletics in the modern world and Christian principles for managing finances.

The series is sponsored by Tusculum College with partial funding from Ron Smith.


The 2017 Theologian-in-Residence series will consider how the story of Jesus was preserved and transmitted by early Christians prior to being recorded in the Gospels.

The series will be led by Dr. Travis B. Williams, assistant professor of religion at Tusculum College. The title of the lecture series will be, “Jesus in Early Christian Memory: Remembering, Reconstructing, and Rehearsing the Past.”

Sessions will begin at 10 a.m. on each Tuesday in February and be located in the Chalmers Conference Center in the Niswonger Commons. Lunch is included, and there is no charge for either the series or lunch.  To make reservations, please call 423-636-7304 or email

Dr. Williams previously served as Theologian-in-Residence in 2014 and 2016, when he lectured on early Christian persecution and the Dead Sea Scrolls, respectively. His research focuses on a variety of different topics within the field of biblical studies, including the New Testament letter of 1 Peter, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the intersection between memory and ancient media culture.

Although a native of East Tennessee, Dr. Williams received his doctorate (New Testament) from the University of Exeter in England. After moving back from the United Kingdom, he began his career at Tusculum in 2010. His teaching duties at the College focus primarily on the Jewish and Christian traditions; however, he regularly leads courses that fall within the broader sphere of religious studies. He and his wife, Amy, have three sons (Bryce, Trent, and Callan), and are members at First Presbyterian Church in Johnson City, where Dr. Williams serves as an elder.



Shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his story began to spread. Eventually, his words and deeds were recounted in Christian communities all across the ancient Mediterranean world. However, nearly half a century would pass before these traditions were written down in the Gospels that were eventually included in the New Testament. This fact raises a number of crucial questions about the origin and transmission of the gospel material: How reliable was the collective memory of the Christian communities who preserved the stories of Jesus? Was anything in the tradition changed as it circulated for many decades in an oral form? For years, scholars have wrestled with these questions, and the conclusions that have been reached have dramatically impacted modern understandings of the historical Jesus and the Gospels which record his memory. By considering the latest research on memory and oral tradition, this series will explore how the Jesus tradition was preserved and transmitted by the earliest Christian communities and what this means for a modern faith perspective.

Session 1: February 7 – The Quest for the Remembered Jesus This session is intended to provide a brief introduction to the quest for the historical Jesus. It will consider where the search went off track and how a focus on memory could offer a helpful corrective.

Week 1 Presentation

Session 2: February 14 – Jesus and the Cognitive Dimensions of Memory In this session, we will explore the various processes involved in the cognitive formation of memory. Most importantly, we will focus on the different ways that distortion would have shaped the memories of Jesus.

Week 2 Presentation

Session 3: February 21 – Jesus and the Social Dimensions of Memory This session will consider the impact of social environment on the construction of memory. Part of this will include an examination of the role of eyewitnesses in the formation and dissemination of the early Jesus tradition.

Week 3 Presentation

Session 4: February 28 – Jesus and the Oral Transmission of Memory In this session, we will focus on the transmission of oral tradition within early Christian communities. In particular, attention will be given to the malleability and persistence of the Jesus tradition as it passed through human agents.

Week 4 Presentation


Resources for the 2017 Theologian-in-Residence lecture series

Resources on Jesus and the Gospels



Sources for the Historical Jesus Research

Need for Historical Jesus Research (Discrepancies in the Gospels)

Quest for the Historical Jesus

Modern Perspectives on the Historical Jesus

Does the Historical Jesus Matter




Introduction to Social and Cultural Memory

Social Memory Theory in Gospels Research

Memory Theory and Jesus Research



Memory Approach Toward Jesus

Memory and History

Memory Distortion and the Jesus Tradition

Oral Tradition and the Gospels

Eyewitness Testimony (Supporting Its Accuracy)

Eyewitness Testimony (Challenging Its Accuracy)



Links to previous brochures for The Theologian-in-Residence series are provided below: