Graduate Theological Union LibraryGraduate Theological Union Library

Doug Adams: His Life and Work

Doug Adams, 1963
Doug Adams, High School
Graduation, 1963
Doug Adams and Margo Miller
Doug Adams and wife
Margo Alice Miller, 1968
Doug Adams, 1972
Doug Adams, PSR, 1972


Growing Up

Douglas Glenn Adams was born in DeKalb, Illinois, on April 12, 1945, son of Glenn H. Adams and Harriet Foote (Engstrom) Adams. On his mother side, his lineage could be traced back to England, where according to Foote family lore, his ancestor saved the life of James 1 by hiding him in the trunk of an oak tree. The Foote family motto is, "Loyalty and Truth."

Adams' family moved a number of times before settling in Rockford, Illinois. He attended West High School where he was editor in chief of the school newspaper (The Owl); state winner of the national extemporaneous speaking contest; and elected commencement speaker. He received the Junior Chamber of Commerce Award as the Outstanding Senior from six area schools. Adams was very active in the Second Congregational Church. He was an Illinois State Officer for Youth Ministry.

He interpreted his family influence as follows:

"I was born into a consciousness of world-wide responsibility. (My mother had been a missionary to India; and one uncle was a missionary to China.) I grew up with abiding grace which undergirded by parents' actions. (My mother had experienced a rebirth of love after the death of previous marriage; and my father's sense of integrity led him to shift jobs and us to move several times.) So much was given to me by my parents and teachers that I could not help but see all my life as a gift. I was given to understand that I owed a debt not to my parents and the past but rather to all others and the future." (Ordination paper for Dr. Von Rohr, 1970, p 1.)

Higher Education

Adams attended Duke University, receiving a BA in history in1967. His major influences included William Poteat, a professor in religion, and a visiting professor, Michael Polyani. (Adams interest in Polyani was shared with Charles S. McCoy (1923-2002), president and professor at PSR. Later, the two co-taught a seminar on Polyani.) At Duke he served as student chairman of the Committee on Curriculum Reform, started a fund for experimental education, tutored local students, and worked as a summer intern at the United Church of Christ office in Washington, D.C., and at its community project.

After Duke, Adams moved across country to attend Pacific School of Religion in 1967. These were very turbulent times on campus and in Berkeley. Just at PSR, a bomb was set off on the steps of the chapel; New Testament Professor Jack Finegan's office was set on fire; students demanded a different curriculum; several faculty members set up an alternative seminary; and the Berkeley Free Church conducted an exorcism of the place. There were also a remarkable number of gifted professors, such as Harland Hogue, Wayne Rood, McCoy and Finegan. Adams recalls that he was one of only 6 or 7 students out of about 70 who actually wanted to become a minister. Many of the others were there for the student deferment that attendance to a seminary provided.

While attending PSR, he married Margo Alice Miller in Berkeley on June 7, 1968. Trained as a statistician and elementary teacher, she was his constant partner and frequent collaborator until her death in 2005.

Adams received a Bachelor in Divinity and MA in 1970. Following graduation, he accepted a call as pastor of College Heights Church, United Church of Christ, San Mateo, where he served until 1972.

In 1972, Adams returned to Holy Hill and in 1974 completed a Doctorate in Theology from Graduate Theological Union. His dissertation was Humor in the American Pulpit from George Whitefield through Henry Ward Beecher, dated April 1. To complete his formal education, he became a Smithsonian Fellow in Art History during 1974-1975, working with Joshua Taylor.


Following the Smithsonian fellowship, he taught religious studies and American art for a year at the University of Montana. In 1976 he became professor in worship and arts at Pacific School of Religion. His focus for the next 31 years was teaching students art and religion, sacred dance, how worship should be present and lively, and how to manage the practical sides of being a minister. He served as one of the core faculty of GTU in the area of religion and art. As a member of the Aesthetics Committee that included Jane Dillenberger and other art and religion faculty members, the committee brought a steady stream of thought provoking exhibits to the Hewlett Library after its completion in 1987. He also was instrumental in creating lively summer sessions at PSR that served as a kind of camp meeting for the arts and worship.

Doug Adams and Rodin sculpture
Doug Adams and Rodin Sculptures
around 1973
Doug Adams, Jane Dillenberger, Frederick Brown
Doug Adams, Jane Dillenberger, and
artist Frederick Brown, 1995

Wilson Yates remarked about the contribution of Adams to PSR and the GTU consortium, "With Adam's leadership and a team of faculty members drawn from 9 different seminaries, the GTU program has developed the major doctoral program for work in theology and the arts in North America." (quoted in Betty H.Meyer, The ARC Story: A Narrative Account of the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture. New York: The Society, 2003, p 101.)

He served as president (1993-95), on board of directors (1992-95) and fellow (1984-2007), the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture; co-chair Arts, Literature and Religion Section, American Academy of Religion, 1984-86; on board of directors, Polyani Society, 1975-2007; on board of directors, Sacred Dance Guild, 1970-2007 (president from 1977-79);editorial board, Modern Liturgy, 1976-2000's; art editor, Church Teachers, 1986-2007; and on advisory committee, ARTS (The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies), 1988-2007.

Great art helps us avoid both idolatry and heresy while poor art is as heretical and idolatrous as propaganda,
Doug Adams, "Art, Faith and Wholeness,"New Theology Review, Vol 6 (1), February 1993.

Adams' enthusiasm and wit made nearly every interchange with him memorable. He was also endowed with a generous spirit.

In Joan Carter's memorial to Adams, she writes, "His generosity seemed to be without limit. When funding for a project he considered important was short, he would quietly dip into his own pocket for the balance needed. Time and again he purchased art works from students who were short on funds, helped young, beginning film-makers with production costs and found numerous other ways to encourage them in their work." ("A Remembrance of Doug Adams, 1945-2007," ARTS, vol 19 (1), 2007 p 3-4.)Two examples include raising the funds to install the Winged Figure in the Hewlett Library and to print his close friend and professor's book, Harland Hogue's Prophets and Paupers: Religion in the California Gold Rush, 1848-1869.

In 1987, he founded the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education (CARE), an affiliated center of the Graduate Theological Union. CARE supports courses, conferences, publications, videos and exhibitions that bring the two worlds of art and religion together.

Adams believed that one should plan to publish a book or complete a major project every year. Of Adams' works, PSR's former President William McKinney noted that Adams' best received books were Transcendence with the Human Body in Art: George Segal, Stephen De Staebler, Jasper Johns, and Christo (1991) and The Prostitute in the Family Tree: Discovering Humor and Irony in the Bible (1997).

One of his final projects, a collection of essays entitled Space for Faiths: Stephen De Staebler's Winged Figure, was published January 2011 as the 22:1 issue of arts: Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, with Diane Apostolos-Cappadona taking over as editor. A last work on Changing Perceptions of Jesus' Parables through Art History; Polyvalency in Paint was not completed, although an article along these lines. "Changing Patterns and Interpretations of Parables in Art" was published in 2005 in Arts, Theology and the Church: New Intersections, edited by Kimberly Vrudney and Wilson Yates.

Doug Adams Memorial

Memorials / Legacies

Doug Adams died of esophageal cancer on July 24, 2007, at the home of John and Connie Herrell. He was survived by his sister, Sally Urban.

That summer, the Sacred Dance Guild held their national festival in Berkeley and dedicated the week to Adams. Memories of his last moments and a number of gratitudes are listed at Festival 2007 - Doug Adams.

Pacific School of Religion conducted a day long memorial celebration on Sunday, October 18, 2007.

Doug Adams Gallery at PSR's Bade Museum was dedicated by CARE in September 2009.

David Stiver
Special Collections
April 15, 2011


1945 April 12Born in DeKalb, Illinois, son of Glenn H. Adams and Harriet Foote (Engstrom) Adams
1967BA (History), Duke University
1968 June 7 Marries Margo Alice Miller
1970BD and MA (Theology and the Arts) Pacific School of Religion
1971Publishes Master's Thesis, Congregational Dancing in Christian Worship (revised edition published in 1984)
1970-1972Pastor, College Heights Church, United Church of Christ, San Mateo
1974 ThD (Theology and the Arts) Graduate Theological Union
1974-75Post-Doctoral Smithsonian Fellow in Art History, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
1975Publishes dissertation, Humor in the American Pulpit from George Whitefield through Henry Ward Beecher
1975-76Assistant Professor of Religion and Arts, University of Montana
1976-2007Professor, Pacific School of Religion
1977-2007Doctoral faculty, Theology and the Arts, Graduate Theological Union
1981, 1984Meeting House to Camp Meeting : Toward a History of American Free Church Worship from 1620 to 1835
1986, 1991Rockwell Visiting Professor, Art Department and Religious Studies and Honors Program, University of Houston
1987Founded the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education (CARE), an affiliated center of the Graduate Theological Union
1987 edited with Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Art as Religious Studies
1991Transcendence with the Human Body in Art : George Segal, Stephen De Staebler, Johns, and Christo
1993 edited with Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Dance as Religious Studies
1995Eyes to See Wholeness : Visual Arts Informing Biblical and Theological Studies in Education and Worship through the Church Year
1997The Prostitute in the Family Tree : Discovering Humor and Irony in the Bible
1997 November 21Tribute to Adams (and Stephen De Staebler), Graduate Theological Union
2002edited with Michael E. Moynihan, Postmodern Worship and the Arts
2006 GTU’s Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award
2007 July 17-22 Festival 2007, Sacred Dance Guild dedicated this festival in Berkeley to Adams, "for all he had done to promote understanding of the relationship between the sacred and art."
2007 July 24Dies at age 62
2007 November 16Posthumously awarded Distinguished Arts and Religion Award from Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies
2009 SeptemberDoug Adams Gallery at PSR's Bade Museum Opens
2011edited work completed by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Space for Faiths: Stephen De Staebler's Winged Figure in 22:1 issue of arts: Arts in Religious and Theological Studies