It’s not every day that Pepperdine University is granted the privilege of having a Pulitzer Prize winner in its presence. However, at the beginning of the 2006 school year Pepperdine University welcomed 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr. Edward Larson.
The Pulitzer Prize is regarded as the highest national honor the prizes are awarded in April of every year and are administered by Columbia University. There are 21 different categories and each winner receives a $10,000 cash reward.
Dr. Larson’s background is not ordinary. He graduated with his B.A from Williams College in 1974 and received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979. In 1984 he also received his PhD in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
However, law had always been Larson’s passion and after graduating from Williams College, he became an analyst for the Wisconsin State Senate for two years and also a counsel for the Washington State House of Representatives from 1981-1982. Throughout his career he has been an attorney for Davis, Wright and Tremaine in Seattle and has been on various Councils including the Committee on Education and Labor for the U.S. Congress and also the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for the U.S. Department of Education.
In 1987, Dr. Larson started his true passion, that of a Professor. He began teaching at the University of Georgia as of Professor of History and Talmadge and also as a Professor of Law. While at the University of Georgia, Larson won his Pulitzer Prize in History for his works, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion.
“It combined my training in law and the history of science,” said Larson explaining why he chose the Scopes Trial as his topic. “I knew that no historian had ever written a book about the case.”
The Scopes Trial is a case that hits close to home for students at Pepperdine University. With the decision of the Scopes Trial it made teaching evolution in schools illegal. It was the trail that would change the public school system in a way to teach the theory of Divine Creation. With this new decision, it allowed for Christian institutions the ability to teach the way they felt. This is a very important matter especially coming from Pepperdine and it being a Christian based education.
However in 1967 by the Supreme Court decision in Epperson v. Arkansas, the trial was, according to Larson, “effectively reversed.”
In an Arkansas statute it prohibited the teaching of evolution in the public school, but that statute was reversed according to the First Constitutional Amendment saying that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” According to the trials holding, it said that states may not require curricula to align with the views of any particular religion. It was then that the teaching of evolution was allowed to be considered in the classroom. The thought was to allow students the ability to see both sides of both theories.
This ruling then changed the way that Pepperdine curriculum could have been taught. It opened up the opportunity for Pepperdine to teach both theories, however being a Christian institution Pepperdine has the option to teach what they chose, thus choosing the Divine Creation theory.
Even though, public institutions across the county now have been given the choice to teach what they want. For many people this is a blessing and for others not as much.
“The evolution theory is basic to our scientific knowledge of how life operates,” said Larson. “Understanding it is critical for advances in medicine, agriculture, environmental protection, and other technological fields.”
The decision of these two trials has become one that is still under scrutiny today. Was the Scopes Trial being reversed the right way to teach the youth of America? Larson has opened up the discussion with his book and allows people to see this trail from many different angels.
In 2001 Professor Larson was named to the John Adams Chair in American Studies where he has taught seminars in American legal history and American science policy. He has received many awards in the areas of honored historians, awards for the advancement of science and he has also received the University of Georgia’s highest honor, the Albert Christ-Janer Creative Research Award.
However, nothing compares to the pride and honor that goes along with the winning of a Pulitzer Prize.
“I was surprised and delighted to hear about winning the Pulitzer Prize, said Dr. Edward Larson. “I heard about it while I was traveling to give a lecture, so I simply proceeded to give my lecture. I was blessed with a great topic, and I love to write.”
Pepperdine University now has the honor or having Edward Larson in its presence and on its staff. With the type of resume Larson has, Pepperdines history department is in for a surprise. With five books, and winning the Pulitzer Prize, the future looks bright for Pepperdine and Professor Larson.