William H. Swatos, Jr. (b. September 25, 1946 – d. November 9, 2020)
William H. (Bill) Swatos, former Executive Officer of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR), passed away on November 9, 2020, at the Community General Hospital Medical Center in Sterling, Ill. He was 74 years old. The immediate cause of death was complications from COVID-19, though Bill had been struggling for several years with neurological impairment and with the onset of memory loss and dementia.
Professor Swatos received his bachelor’s degree in sociology with honors (1966) from Transylvania University in Kentucky, and his M.A. (1969) and Ph.D. (1973) in the same subject from the University of Kentucky. The Department of Sociology at Kentucky named Bill its distinguished alumnus in 1989. Across five decades, he taught sociology, philosophy, and religious studies — along with occasional courses in anthropology, geography, and speech — at a succession of institutions. These ranged widely in size and character: from the small and denominational (King College [now King University] in Bristol, Tenn.; and Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.) to the small and public (Black Hawk College in Moline, Ill.) to the large and public (Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.; and the University of South Florida in Tampa). In 1982, Bill received a Fulbright grant to perform research and to lecture on religion in Iceland.
Bill Swatos’s working life combined four simultaneous yet distinct careers: research and writing on the sociology of religion, often with a noticeable Weberian bent; shepherding sociological articles and books by others into print as an academic editor; administering professional affairs in the discipline through his management of scholarly associations; and serving Christian believers as a member of the ordained ministry. In the first pursuit, Bill Swatos authored or co-authored eight books, compiled twenty-one anthologies alone or in collaborations, and contributed more than seventy articles and chapters to religious or sociological publishers. He was always careful in his edited volumes not only to feature the work of established figures, but also to encourage and cultivate the participation of rising younger scholars. Personal and institutional prestige mattered little to Bill: he was as happy (maybe happier) to recognize the research of a lesser-known individual as to publish a new manuscript from a prominent contributor.
As an editor, Bill helmed the official journal of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Sociology of Religion (formerly Sociological Analysis), between 1989 and 1994. After relinquishing that post, he revived and edited for a decade (2005-2015) the ASR’s long-running book series with Brill Academic Publishers, Religion and the Social Order. At the same time, he was Managing Editor (2004-2016) of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, a pioneering online outlet sponsored by the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.
As substantial as all these accomplishments were, most sociologists who knew Bill Swatos probably could trace their acquaintance with him to a friendly greeting that they received from behind the registration desk at a professional meeting. Bill was the first Executive Director of the Religious Research Association, an organization that he served in that capacity from 1994 to 2015. Overlapping that service were his efforts as Executive Officer of the ASR from 1996 to 2012. In these jobs, Bill handled a myriad of organizational duties, from managing money and balancing budgets to maintaining mailing lists to selecting menu items for meals and receptions at annual conferences. Few models preceded him in this work, and few then or now could exceed his standards for timeliness and efficiency.
At the start of his ecclesiastical career, Bill graduated with an M.Div. degree in 1969 from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Lexington, Ky., where he taught classes on Greek and New Testament. The following year he was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and began serving a series of congregations of that denomination, first in Kentucky and then in the border area between southwestern Virginia and east Tennessee. His longest period of pastoral ministry, more than a dozen years, was as vicar of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Silvis, Ill. A move to the Gulf coast of Florida in 1997 found Father Bill filling in as clergy in parishes in Clearwater, Lakeland, and New Port Richey, among other communities. He returned to Illinois in 2004, but his unit of the Episcopal Church there, the Diocese of Quincy, in 2008 withdrew from the denomination in reaction to perceived departures from theological orthodoxy. Bill went with it, and with it he eventually affiliated with the new Anglican Church in North America. With the Anglicans he took charge of historic Christ Church, Limestone, in Hanna City, Ill., for a decade while acting as Canon Theologian for the Diocese. He also was President of the American Region of the Society of King Charles the Martyr, an Anglo-Catholic devotional organization.
Bill Swatos was born in West Milford, N.J. His marriage to Priscilla Lampman ended in divorce. He was preceded in death in 2017 by his second wife, Joy Anne Longstreet Swatos, and is survived by two sons: Giles S. Swatos of Tampa, Fla.; and Eric B. (Elizabeth) Swatos of Prophetstown, Ill.; and by four grandchildren. Bill’s family recommends that any memorial contributions be directed to the Alzheimer’s Association at https://www.alz.org.
Much of what Bill Swatos achieved in life he did behind the scenes, in undertakings that would be noticed only if they were fumbled. Because such mishaps were rare, he risked missing the fullness of credit for all that he accomplished. This account is an attempt to rectify that imbalance and to suggest why — among scholars, academic readers, conference-goers, and people in the pews — he will be greatly missed.