Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the Baker Institute
Chavanne Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Rice University
Drug Policy Program Director
William Martin (Ph.D., Harvard, 1969) is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor Emeritus of Religion and Public Policy in the Department of Sociology at Rice. Since his retirement from teaching in June 2005, he has served as the Chavanne Senior Fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice. His areas of specialization include religion, criminology, and issues related to drug use and drug policy. He has been a professor at Rice since 1968.
After several years of experience as a boy preacher, Bill Martin attended Abilene (Texas) Christian University, where he received B.A. (1958) and M.A. (1960) degrees in Biblical Studies and taught for one year as a graduate assistant. He then attended Harvard Divinity School, where he received a B.D. (now called MDiv) degree in 1963. In 1969, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard, in a program known as Religion and Society, a joint effort between the Divinity School and the Department of Social Relations. His dissertation, Christians in Conflict: The Role of the Clergy in Racial Conflict in Rochester, New York, was prepared under the direction of Harvey Cox, Joseph Fichter, and Thomas Pettigrew. At Harvey Cox's suggestion, he submitted an article based on his thesis to The Atlantic Monthly, which published it as the lead article in its December 1967 issue. Flushed with the pleasure of having his work read by large numbers, Bill Martin began to follow an unusual career path of publishing mainly in high-quality magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper's, Esquire, and Texas Monthly, for which he wrote a three-year monthly series of articles on Texas churches that led to his being the subject of a "60 Minutes" segment in September 1979.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Professor Martin concentrated mainly on religious broadcasters and was one of the first academicians to give serious attention to what came to be known as the Electronic Church. At the end of the 1970s, this led naturally to increased attention to fundamentalist involvement in politics and the rise of the movement known as the Religious Right. This work culminated, after dozens of articles, in his writing With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (Broadway Books, 1996), the companion volume to the PBS mini-series of the same name and for which he served as chief consultant. A revised edition of both the book and the video series appeared in the summer of 2005. His writings on various aspects of evangelical and fundamentalist religion also led to his being given the opportunity to write A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story (William Morrow, 1991), regarded as the most authoritative biography of the famed evangelist. An updated version of this book, with four new chapters, was released by Zondervan in February 2018. In addition to these historical and sociological publications, Bill Martin also wrote My Prostate and Me: Dealing with Prostate Cancer (Caddell and Davies, 1994), an account of his own successful bout with this disease. As a result, he has appeared on more than 150 radio and television programs to discuss prostate cancer and regularly counsels men and families touched by the disease. Bill also taught a course in Popular Culture for several years, an interest reflected in numerous magazine articles.
Bill Martin was involved with the Baker Institute since its beginning, even serving on the search committee that brought Ambassador Edward Djerejian to become the Institute’s Founding Director in 1994. Bill has taken an active role in the Baker Institute, directing both the Religion and Public Policy Program and the Drug Policy Program, extending his decades of teaching sociology of religion, social problems, and criminology. He has organized and chaired programs and conferences on the impact of religion, particularly various forms of fundamentalism, on public policy, and on ways to reduce the harms associated with drug misuse and drug policy. Most of these can be accessed through the Baker Institute website at http://bakerinstitute.org/.
Bill Martin received a number of teaching awards during his years as a professor, including the George R. Brown Life Honor Award, which made him ineligible for most additional awards given by Rice. At age sixteen, he decided to become a college professor as a consequence of exposure to particularly inspiring and dedicated teachers he encountered during his freshman year in college. Now in his 54th year at Rice, with a half-time appointment at the Baker Institute, he still regards it as a fine decision.
Bill and Patricia Summerlin met at Abilene Christian University (then College) and married while both were still undergraduates, though waiting until Bill’s twentieth birthday, New Year’s Eve 1937, so Patricia, a few months older, would not be embarrassed by marrying a teenager. As of December 31, 2021, they have been married 64 years and counting. They have three children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, all girls but the last of the nine grandchildren. They are reliably told that another great-grandchild is on the way.
An excellent student—with higher grades than Bill’s—Patricia began taking courses in history at Rice after they came to Houston in 1968. She eventually earned her Ph.D. in history in 1981. Bill and Patricia became Masters (now called Magisters) of Sid Richardson [residential] College at Rice, living with several hundred college men for five years. After finishing her degree, she worked for a time with the then-new Rice Continuing Studies program, then moved into academic advising. She moved up that ladder swiftly, becoming Director of Academic Advising, Dean of Students, and eventually Associate Vice-President of Student Affairs. Along the way, she developed a strong commitment to the Study Abroad program, belonging to several national consortia and encouraging hundreds of Rice students to study abroad for at least one or two semesters during their undergraduate careers. An excellent and adventurous cook, she also became a restaurant reviewer for magazines such as Houston City, My Table, UItra, and Texas Monthly, a delightful avocation she and Bill enjoyed for 35 years—until she realized that they were often 50 years older than most of the diners in many of the restaurants, deciding they were not the demographic a midtown ramen show was targeting.
In addition to these pursuits, Patricia’s doctoral dissertation, Hidden Work—Baptist Women in Texas, 1880-1920, and exploring in detail how highly competent women were underappreciated and hindered from advancement in the denomination because of their gender. Not surprisingly, the dissertation, now an ebook available on Rice’s OpenStax—Google Hidden Work here—seems highly relevant in Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches today. It will soon be available on this website in an updated and more appealing form. Check again in a couple of months.