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Religious Studies in the News

Joan Nicoll Riedl Religious Studies Endowment Surprises and Delights Its Namesake

Joan Nicoll Riedl Religious Studies Endowment Surprises and Delights Its Namesake

Joan Nicoll Riedl spent more than three decades as a support staff member in the Department of Religious Studies. Emeritus Professor John O. Hodges and Lillian Tauxe Mashburn (’65) recognized her dedication to the department faculty, students, and other staff February 18, 2020, with the announcement of the Joan Nicoll Riedl Endowment, an honor not often bestowed on support staff at the university.

“I am delighted with the new Riedl endowment because it both honors a very special person from our history and helps our department thrive in the future,” said Christine Shepardson, Lindsay Young Professor of Early Christianity and head of religious studies. “Flexible endowments like this one allow us to boost existing events such as the Dungan Lecture, as well as offer new programs, such as our concentration in religion and nonprofit leadership and a course about religion in the workplace. In this way, we continually respond to academic trends, student interests, and national conversations around religion.”

Established by Hodges, Mashburn, and other donors, the Riedl Endowment makes permanent a previous Joan Nicoll Riedl Book Award, which helped religious studies majors buy textbooks. Earnings from the new endowment may be used for travel expenses, hosting visiting lecturers, and other academic purposes of the department.

Riedl’s longtime friends Hodges and Mashburn praised her dedication during the reception.

“You kindly reminded us that serving the students is why we are here!” Hodges said.

Joan Nicoll Riedl came to East Tennessee with her husband Norbert Riedl, who joined UT’s faculty in 1962. By then, Joan had earned degrees at Grinnell College and the University of Illinois. She was also one of the first American Fulbright Scholars at the University of Vienna. Born in Chicago, with Scottish roots and expertise in German literature, Joan eventually joined the UT Department of Religious Studies as its secretary (as it was then known), giving more than three decades of devoted service.

“Joan, when you and Bert and your family arrived at UT in 1962, you joined an extraordinary company of highly talented young teachers and scholars who were clearly going to make their mark,” said Ralph V. Norman Jr. (’54, ’56), professor and former department head.

Prematurely widowed in her forties, Riedl raised five children while serving as the linchpin of religious studies. She moved into McClung Tower when the building was new.

“Joan, you gave the department’s daily life a depth and a breadth such as few offices across the university could ever dream of matching,” Norman said. “In the academic affairs office, this was quickly recognized, and it was envied. My colleagues over there asked if you wouldn’t like to come over and share what we thought was our larger view, get the Big Picture. But you said you knew very well where the real Big Picture is. It’s where the students are, with their questions and their problems, and it’s where the faculty live, with their own questions and problems.”  

The honor was a surprise to its 91-year-old namesake, who attended the reception with her family.

“My mother managed—with the help of the religious studies department—to make sure that all five of us made it through college,” said Chris Riedl (’03), representing his brothers and sisters Jennifer Cross, Glennis Porter, Fiona Riedl (’93), and Alexander Riedl (’93, ’98). “Several of us are educators. We got started in university life, and it has carried forward. My mom will go almost anywhere on this planet, and speak to anyone. She embraces life and people, and I’ve been very proud to have her as a mother.”

To learn more about supporting the Department of Religious Studies, visit us online or contact Holly Jackson-Sullivan (’97), director of advancement for religious studies, at and 865-850-0356.

-By Jane S. Gulley

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