Retiring professor left mark on sociology and religion

By Kerry Kirk

Features Editor Purdue Exponent

Publication Date: 04/21/2009

With over 40 years of researching and teaching, one professor’s memory will withstand at Purdue long after he retires.

James D. Davidson, professor of sociology, started working at Purdue in 1968 and is retiring in May. He said the only way he survived the last 41 years was because he enjoyed his work.

“We’ve all had good days and bad days ... but Purdue has been good to me in many ways; I think I’ve also made some contributions,” Davidson said. “I like to accentuate the positive over the negative.”

Davidson explained that before he and his colleagues started their research at Purdue there was only a small link between religion and Purdue.

“Over the years, working with some other colleagues, we have been able to build a program in sociology of religion that many of our colleagues would consider to be the best in the country,” he said. “We’ve been able to add sociology and religion to Purdue’s national and international reputation.”

Davidson is hopeful he will be remembered for his research.

“I would say one of the things that still pleases me is that the work that we have done over the years has had an impact beyond what goes on in the classroom,” he said. “I know my research has made a difference in my community.”

Davidson has had thousands of undergraduate students over the years, but he said it became clear to him that his closest relationships have been formed with his 30 to 40 graduate students.

“Several of them held a special tribute session for me a couple of years ago and said their work at Purdue, and with me in particular, helped them achieve the kind of lives and careers they had longed for,” he said. “My students have become like family to me.”

Dr. Jerry Koch, a Purdue graduate who had Davidson as a mentor, is now a professor of sociology at Texas Tech. He said Davidson’s patience is what helped him succeed.

“He kept working with us until we accomplished what we needed to accomplish to get our degrees,” Koch said. “He would never quit on us.”

Aside from being an impressive scholar and teacher, Davidson’s high standards are what helped his students stand out.

“Far and away he was the best teacher I ever had,” Koch said. “What I’ve often said publicly and privately is he got a lot out of me; more than I thought I had in me.”

After Davidson retires in May, he plans to spend his time writing, speaking and traveling to visit family.

“I will enjoy my retirement knowing the effort I put in and the work I have done has had value,” he said.