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About the Nielsen Center

Founded in 2021 through a generous gift from Helmar Nielsen, The Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts at Eckerd College hosts sustained small group conversations among faculty teaching at small liberal arts colleges.

The Nielsen Center honors faculty for their commitment to teaching and the liberal arts. Workshops are designed to create a hospitable, retreat-like space of abundance and aesthetic excellence — providing a revitalizing respite from the culture of scarcity and competition that pervades in the academy today.

Goals of the Center

  • To support and develop faculty committed to exploring the vocation of liberal arts teaching and leaning
  • To support and develop the teaching effectiveness of faculty at small liberal arts colleges
  • To strengthen liberal arts education in small American colleges

Eckerd College

The Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts instantiates the abiding commitment of Eckerd College to liberal arts teaching and learning. For more than 60 years Eckerd College has been challenging students to “think outside” on our 188-acre campus along Tampa Bay.

Helmar Nielsen

Retired Eckerd College Trustee and Founder of the Nielsen Center

A generous gift from Helmar Nielsen has endowed the Center in perpetuity—an expression of his unwavering support of liberal arts education as a process of cognitive, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual growth for students and faculty alike. The Center expresses his belief that the liberal arts requires a unique and intentional collaboration between faculty across the disciplines, as well as careful and sustained attention to the purposes and varied processes of student learning in the liberal arts tradition. Helmar Nielsen is dedicated to the importance of the continued existence and excellence of liberal arts colleges.

A retired executive, Helmar Nielsen joined the Eckerd College Board of Trustees in 1994 and has served the College with his time and generosity ever since. Even after his retirement from the Board in 2021, Nielsen has continued to seek ways to put Eckerd on the map for its innovative approach to the liberal arts.

More about Helmar Nielsen

Helmar Nielsen has funded endowed professorships, scholarships, and programs in various areas at the College, including film studies, the humanities, science and technology, spiritual life, ethics, and faculty development. The Helmar and Enole Nielsen Center for Visual Arts, which opened at Eckerd in 2018, is named for Nielsen and his daughter.

Through his long-time leadership of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board, Helmar came to know many faculty members. Helmar is a member of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (part of the College’s lifelong learning community) and has attended numerous events, lectures, and receptions on campus over the years.

Helmar’s belief in the value of education extends beyond Eckerd: he is a former Trustee of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, the Morehouse School of Religion, and also supports William Jewell College, where he began his own college journey.

Thomas Pearson

Director of the Nielsen Center

Dr. Thomas Pearson was appointed the founding director of the Center in July 2021.

An anthropologist of American religious cultures with a doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Tom taught at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and for nearly twenty years was Associate Director of the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion – an organization located on the Wabash College campus and funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. to support faculty teaching religious and theological studies through workshops, grants, and resources.

Tom is the author of Missions and Conversions: Creating the Montagnard-Dega Refugee Community (Palgrave, 2009), an analysis of missionary rhetorics adopted by anthropologists and the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

Under Tom’s 15 year editorship, the international peer-reviewed journal, Teaching Theology & Religion developed a signature genre of scholarship on teaching and learning in higher education.

Davina C. Lopez

Executive Director of the Nielsen Center

Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College

Davina C. Lopez is Professor of Religious Studies, and core faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies, at Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida, where she currently serves as the chair of the Letters (Humanities) collegium. A historian of religion and biblical scholar, her research focuses on discourses produced by doubters, heretics, extremists, innovators, and other strangers across time and cultures, inside and outside of organized religious movements, from the ancient near east to the contemporary United States. Alongside numerous articles, book chapters, and essays, she is the author of Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul’s Mission (2008); senior editor of the Greek, Roman, New Testament, and Early Christian worlds for The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies (2014); the co-author (with Todd Penner) of De-Introducing the New Testament: Texts, Worlds, Methods, Stories (2015), and the Pauline Literature editor for the Westminster NRSV Study Bible (2023).

More about Davina Lopez

Prof. Lopez has chaired the Rhetoric and New Testament Section for the Society of Biblical Literature as well as the Committee on Teaching and Learning for the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and she has worked with the AAR to develop the recently adopted “Guidelines for Religious Literacy College-Wide.” She has been awarded grants and fellowships from The Louisville Institute, Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, and American Council of Learned Societies. She teaches courses that ask questions about what religion is and why it matters as a human response to the world, focusing on “cults” or new religious movements, theories and methods, and intersectional aspects of race, gender, sexuality, visuality, and meaning-making. She also teaches courses on vocational discernment and the humanities as a distinctive means of knowledge production and engagement.