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2021 Commencement Speaker & Honorary Degree Recipients

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Honorary Degree Recipient

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

John B. Cobb, Jr. is an American philosopher, theologian, and environmentalist and is often cited as one of the most important North American theologians of the twentieth century. The author of more than fifty books, Cobb is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — one of the nation’s highest honors. Cobb is a founding co-director of the Center for Process Studies and Professor Emeritus of Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University.

A unifying theme of Cobb’s work is his emphasis on ecological interdependence—the idea that every part of the ecosystem is reliant on all the other parts. Cobb has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends, an idea which his primary influence, Alfred North Whitehead, describes as “world-loyalty.”

Cobb is well known for his transdisciplinary approach to knowledge. As a result, Cobb has been influential in a wide range of disciplines, including theology, ecology, economics, biology and social ethics.

In 1958, Cobb was named Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology and Avery Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. He established the Process Studies journal with Lewis S. Ford in 1971 and co-founded the Center for Process Studies with David Ray Griffin in 1973.

In 1971, he wrote the first single-author book in environmental ethics, Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology, which argued for the relevance of religious thought in approaching the ecological crisis. In 1989, he co-authored with Herman Daly the book, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, which critiqued current global economic practice and advocated for a sustainable, ecology-based economics. He has written extensively on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, particularly between Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the need to reconcile religion and science.

Dr. Karen Wood

Commencement Speaker

The Reverend Dr. Karen Wood

University Chaplain

After 19 years, Dr. Wood joins the Class of 2021 in saying goodbye to Willamette at the end of this academic year.

Karen Wood became Willamette University's chaplain and associate professor of religious studies in June 2012 following ten years as associate chaplain for vocational exploration and director of the Lilly Project for Theological, Ethical and Spiritual Exploration of Vocation. In that role, Wood worked with students to discern purpose and meaning for their lives.

As Willamette’s spiritual leader, Wood has been referred to by many as the “heart and soul” of the Willamette community. She is known for her compassion and for holding the institution accountable to the ideals of justice and equity.

In addition to her work as University Chaplain, Wood has taught courses in Religious Studies and has led the Convocation class that organizes lunchtime discussions for the community around big ideas. In 2019, she chaired the task force that created the First-Year Experience, a network of classes, programming, and relationships that help first-year students develop skills and habits that will enable their success and belonging at Willamette. She is a past president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains, and has served as a mentor for chaplains in higher education.

Before coming to Willamette, Wood served as dean of students at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, she holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.Div. and Th.D. from Harvard University. After graduating with the Willamette Class of '21, she will be spending more time in the mountains and desert, searching for the elusive North American Bearcat.

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