BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College has announced the appointment of its latest Perry and Aleece Gresham Chair of Humanities.

Dr. Holly Hillgardner, associate professor of religion, was appointed to serve as the chair of humanities by Bethany President Tamara Nichols Rodenberg.

“Dr. Hillgardner has been a passionate advocate for the study of and practice of humanity – as both a virtue and a discipline,” said Dr. Joseph Lane, provost and dean of faculty. “She teaches, writes, and speaks to the very real and pressing claim that we owe our fellow human beings attention, compassion, and respect.”

Hillgardner came to Bethany in 2012 as a Renner Visiting Scholar and was granted tenure and promotion to associate professor of religion in 2018.

She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas-Arlington and has Ph.D. in theology and philosophy with a concentration in women’s studies from Drew University.

Hillgardner began her three-year term as the Gresham chair Tuesday with a convocation lecture in Phillips Lounge. Each Gresham Chair is expected to deliver a series of lectures during his or her appointment.

Hillgardner’s first lecture was titled “Comparative Pilgrimage: Faith with Legs” and detailed her completion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in Japan.

“My pilgrimages were like little microcosms of what heaven might be like,” Hillgardner said.

As she spoke with fellow pilgrims, she said asked why they were walking; what role religion played in their pilgrimage, and how did they expect their lives to change after their pilgrimage.

She called the pilgrimages the “easiest hard thing” she’s ever done, noting that that burying a loved one and getting her degrees were much tougher.

“All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other one day, and the next day, and the next day,” she said of the pilgrimages.

Hillgardner said she plans to build on her experiences by creating a Pilgrimage and Protest course at Bethany.

After her lecture, Lane presented Hillgardner with a medal in recognition of her appointment as the Gresham Chair.

The Perry and Aleece Gresham Chair was established in 1980 to honor the Greshams for their service to Bethany and to humanity; to foster in future generations of students the values that characterized the lives of Grehams; to enhance the value of the humanities at Bethany College and beyond; to honor, attract, and retain distinguished scholar-teachers in the humanities; and to bring honor upon Bethany College by enhancing its reputation for scholarly excellence.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.