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Hector Avalos

Born 8 October 1958 (1958-10-08) (age 51)
Nogales, Sonora, México
Residence Ames IA
Fields Religious Studies
Institutions Iowa State University
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Divinity School
University of Arizona
Known for Internationally-recognized critic of Intelligent Design creationism

Hector Avalos (b. Nogales, Sonora, México, October 8, 1958) is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion.[1] He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. Recognized as one of the foremost scholars of health care in the ancient world, Avalos is also one of the most prominent secular humanist biblical scholars today.

He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University (1991), a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School (1985), and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1982.

Avalos arrived at Iowa State University in the Fall of 1993 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship (1991–93) in the departments of Anthropology and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1996 Avalos was named Professor of the Year at Iowa State University, where he was also named a Master Teacher for 2003–04. Other awards include The Early Achievement in Research and Creative Activity Award (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1996), and the Outstanding Professor Award (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1996)[1].

Since his arrival at Iowa State, Avalos has become an internationally-recognized critic of Intelligent Design, and he is often linked with Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, the advocate of Intelligent Design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007. Avalos co-authored a statement against Intelligent Design in 2005, which was eventually signed by over 130 faculty members at Iowa State University. That faculty statement became a model for other statements at the University of Northern Iowa and at the University of Iowa. Gonzalez and Avalos are both featured in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008).


Research and Publication

Avalos' first major entry into publishing was Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (1995), published in the prestigious Harvard Semitic Monograph series. The book was the first to combine systematically critical biblical studies with medical anthropology to reconstruct the health care systems of Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel. Avalos, in effect, was marrying the two major fields in which he was formally trained-anthropology and biblical studies.

In Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (1999) outlined the thesis that Christianity began, in part, as a health care reform movement that sought to address the problems voiced by patients in the Greco-Roman world. This explained the persistent and pervasive appearance of healing stories in the New Testament.

¿Se Puede Saber si Dios Existe? [Can One Know if God Exists? (2003) made him probably the most prominent biblical critic in the Spanish-speaking world, as few openly secularist biblical scholars write in Spanish. The book was actually the first he wrote, but it was not edited for publication for years because of other writing commitments. Therein, Avalos wrote a refutation of some arguments for the existence of God, and a critique of arguments for the divine origin of the Bible.

By 2004, Avalos had turned his attention to the study of U.S. Latinos, the name given to people who live in the United States and trace their ancestry to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. Latinos are now the largest "minority" in the United States, numbering over 40 million persons. By then, Avalos also served as General Editor of Religion in the Americas book series for Brill Publishers. He was the editor of, and a contributor to, Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience (2004), which aimed to be the first general textbook on U.S. Latino/a religions. It was unusual because it covered groups such as Dominicans and Central Americans, which most other books on Latino religion usually overlook. This was called a "landmark" publication by a reviewer of the Marburg Journal of Religion 9:2 (December, 2004).

His book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005) used scarce resource theory to explain the role of religion in violence. Avalos argues that all conflict is usually the result of some resource that is either scarce or perceived to be scarce. This could range from love in a family to energy on a global scale. When religion causes violence, it does so because it has created a new scarce resource somewhere. Such scarce resources could include sacred space ("The Holy Land"), group privileging, and eternal life. Violence may result from the effort to maintain or acquire these religiously-created resources, and people may be willing to give or take life in pursuit of these resources. However, unlike scarcities that are verifiable (e.g., water, oil), resources such as eternal life are unverifiable and created entirely by religious bellief. Therefore, when one kills for religious reasons, one is usually trading actual lives for resources that are either not scarce or cannot even be verified to exist. He made the further argument that religious violence is always immoral, whereas secular violence is only sometimes immoral. The book also offered a scathing critique of religionist scholars who defended biblical violence and genocide, as well as a critique of the thesis that the Nazi Holocaust was an example of atheistic violence. Avalos and his book were featured on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation on August 22, 2005.

The same year, Avalos published Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature (2005), which was the first systematic study of how Latino authors address issues of religion and specific religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, African Religions, and Indigenous religions).

With The End of Biblical Studies (2007) Avalos extended the trajectory of the argument in Fighting Words. He argued that academic biblical scholarship was primarily an apologetic religionist enterprise meant to provide the illusion that the Bible was still a culturally and morally superior authority. He provided a critique of specific fields (translation, archaeology, history, textual criticism, literary aesthetics) to show how thoroughly permeated such fields were with pro-religionist biases.

This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, published also in 2007, saw Avalos returning to health care studies. He contributed to, and co-edited (with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper), an anthology that explores how biblical authors conceptualize the human body and deviations from "normative" views of the human body.

In addition to books, Avalos has published dozens of articles in peer reviewed and semi-scholarly periodicals (e.g., Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Traditio), as well as in standard reference books such as The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (1993), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (1996), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000), and The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (2006–).The subjects have ranged from Astronomy and the Bible to targumic textual criticism.


  • This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies (co-edited with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper) (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007) ISBN 1589831861.
  • The End of Biblical Studies (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007) ISBN 1591025362.
  • Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005) ISBN 0687330459.
  • Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005) ISBN 1591022843
  • Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience, (Editor; Boston: Brill, 2004) ISBN 0391042408.
  • Se puede saber si Dios existe? [Can One Know if God Exists?]. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2003) ISBN 1591020433.
  • Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, (Peabody: Mass: Hendrickson Press, 1999) ISBN 1565633377.
  • Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel (Harvard Semitic Monographs 54: Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995) ISBN 0788500988.


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