Kathy Pulley ('80) | Graduate School of Theology
Dr. Kathy Pulley is a woman with a doctorate and 30 years of teaching experience in religious studies – which probably doesn’t sound all that remarkable now, but Pulley herself couldn’t envision it when she graduated from ACU more than 35 years ago.
Pulley was one of just two women taking classes in the Graduate School of Theology as she worked on her master of arts in doctrinal studies.
“Initially it wasn’t clear to me that it was possible to do a Ph.D.,” she said. “That seemed like a stretch.”
Yet that’s what she did, and after decades of research and classroom teaching on the subjects of religion, women and aspects of the Stone-Campbell movement in American religion, Pulley was honored in December with a 2011 Distinguished Alumni Citation from her alma mater.
Finishing the course work in just one calendar year, Pulley studied under Drs. John Willis, Neil Lightfoot, Everett Ferguson and Tom Olbricht.
“I was encouraged to have confidence in myself and my abilities as I did graduate study,” she said. “That was important.”
Pulley is professor of religious studies at Missouri State University and a former associate provost there. Her disciplinary specialization is religion and culture, with a primary focus of her recent research on women in Churches of Christ She contributed two chapters to Carroll Osburn’s two-volume series Essays on Women in Early Christianity and has taught such courses as Modern Religious Thought and God and Politics.
Pulley said she always planned to teach, but the idea of becoming a college professor was slow to develop.
“Our parents never seemed to impose any limits on what we wanted to do, in terms of our futures,” she said. “They may have been surprised at times, but supportive. Always supportive.”
She enjoyed learning so much in undergraduate studies that she decided to take a year to study in Abilene. A full-ride scholarship helped make it possible.
Even then, she said, she wasn’t thinking yet of becoming a college professor, perhaps a reflection of her Church of Christ roots, in which women traditionally were not viewed as authority figures, particularly in religious fields.
“Initially, they were a bit puzzled when I told them I wanted to go to Abilene Christian University to get a master’s in theology, instead of immediately beginning a career in teaching high school students,” she said. “I just wanted to study theology more in depth.”
Pulley describes her year at ACU as “a defining moment in my life.”
“I often say that I have the best job in the world, but I truly believe my life as a professor would not have been possible without ACU,” she said.
“The professors took an interest in me,” she said. “They were very accessible and seemed very interested in my future. [But] it wasn’t clear to me, and possibly not to them, that a future for a woman would be possible in the Churches of Christ in that capacity.”
Teaching Bible or theology at a Church of Christ-affiliated school was not possible at the time, so Pulley pursued her doctorate at Boston University and returned to her undergraduate alma mater, Missouri State, to teach.
“ACU continues to influence me because it has continued to provide a network of valuable connections,” she said. “I think I’m a better faculty member because of the modeling and mentoring I received at ACU.”
Those connections have led to a number of opportunities, such as serving on the editorial board for The Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.
“I was pleased the church and ACU had progressed to the point that there was interest in the subject,” she said. “Each trip [to campus], I marvel at what the university is accomplishing. I’m proud to say I’m an ACU graduate. I’ve been the big winner in this relationship.”