John Powell Clayton

Department of Religion Chair, Boston University, BS 1964

John Powell Clayton was born in 1943 in Sherman, Texas, and grew up in Bailey. When he was nine years old, his family moved to Tulia where his father relocated his cotton ginning business. John graduated from Tulia High School in 1961 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in religion from Hardin-Simmons in 1964. He went on to Baylor University where he earned a Master of Arts degree in 1967. He attended Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1968. In 1975, John earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

As a student at Hardin-Simmons, John was a member of Tau Alpha Phi social club and was a member and vice president of Pi Gamma Mu National Honorary Social Science Fraternity.

In 1965, John married his high school sweetheart, June Harris. Their daughter, Emma, was born in 1981.

In 1972, not believing it was really possible to attain the job, he applied for and received a position at the University of Lancaster in Lancaster, England. The Religious Studies Department of Lancaster was quite new when John joined as their first lecturer in religious and atheistic thought. Over the years, he worked his way up the academic ranks until he became professor. Soon thereafter, he became the first American ever to be asked by Cambridge University to deliver the prestigious Stanton Lectures in Philosophy of Religion. Later, he became head of the department, which earned important national rankings under his four-year leadership. Lancaster emerged as one of the leading schools for religious studies in the United Kingdom.

In 1997, John accepted a similar position at Boston University, as professor of religion, chair of the department of religion, and director of the division of religious and theological studies, where he remained until his death in 2003.

John traveled extensively, lecturing widely throughout Europe and the United States. In particular, he established a professional presence in Germany. From 1980 to 1997, he served as visiting professor at the University of Bayreuth, Germany; Rice University; the University of Houston; and was the Hulsean Preacher to the University of Cambridge.

In 1998 John was named an honorary professor of religious studies by the University of Stirling, Scotland, and in 1999 was named an honorary professor of religious studies by the University of Lancaster, England. In 2002, Cornell University named him an honorary visiting scholar in Near Eastern studies, and also that year, he was named a research scholar by the Institute of Religion and World Affairs at Boston University and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. John received the HSU Distinguished Alumni award in 1995.

Books were John’s first love. In 2003, ill with cancer, John arranged to have his vast religion and philosophy library gifted, upon his death, to HSU as an acknowledgment of his affection for and gratitude to Hardin-Simmons. The John Clayton Collection in Philosophy and Religious Studies located in the Richardson Library includes 2,867 volumes of books and a number of unbound publications and scholarly papers from John’s estate.

John’s desire was to provide an opportunity for other young students to begin a quest for knowledge as he had done when he came to Hardin-Simmons where his mind was challenged with questions he spent a lifetime answering. His dedication, determination, and perseverance in his pursuit of knowledge led this nationally and internationally distinguished scholar to the highest ranks of academia.

While he achieved the highest standards of learning, John continued to have the thirst for knowledge that was awakened in him during his undergraduate career. Though he was a highly celebrated scholar, John never forgot his roots and his HSU friends. He cherished his memories of Hardin-Simmons University, and left it his greatest treasurer—his library.

John has been described as a humorous and unique man who was industrious, curious, and asked probing questions. He is remembered as a student who made the other students think. He continued throughout his life challenging students to think. And by leaving the legacy of his library to HSU, he continues still to ask us all to use our minds.

It is the high honor of Hardin-Simmons University to recognize one of her own and to formally induct John Powell Clayton into the HSU Hall of Leaders. We would like to thank the family of Dr. Clayton for attending.