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Dr. Hector Avalos died on April 12, 2021 after a battle with cancer.
Avalos was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico on October 8, 1958. His early education began in an elementary school in Mexico and continued in Glendale, Arizona. Later he attended Glendale Community College.
While a student at the University of Arizona, he contracted Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis requiring him to drop out of his degree program in Anthropology in 1978. He battled with this disease and/or complications from it until the end of his life. More than once, his medical doctors advised him to put his affairs in order, but scientific discoveries and new treatments allowed him to continue. Dr. Anthony Fauci developed a medical regime that improved his life and going forward, he was joyous every time he saw Dr. Fauci. Avalos also had admiration for his medical team at the McFarland Clinic in Ames, Iowa, and felt that they are some of our finest medical professionals.
He returned to the University of Arizona in 1980, and proceeded to pass out of classes allowing him to make up lost time. He completed his sophomore, junior, and senior years in three semesters. He stayed another year to pursue a master's degree in anthropology (though he never did finish it).
He was awarded a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. In 1991 he received a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Philology from Harvard's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
After graduating from Harvard, he moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had appointments in anthropology and religious studies.
Dr. Avalos joined the Religious Studies faculty at Iowa State University in 1993 and founded the US Latino/a Studies Program. He was named Professor of the Year in 1996, and he won the Outstanding Professor Award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the same year. He was the first recipient (1996) of the Early Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He won a Master Teacher in 2003-04 in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also won the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in 2016 for helping to develop the US Latino/a Studies Program. Other awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers in 2016, and the first Hispanic American Freethinkers Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington D.C. in 2018, and was inducted to the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in 2019.
In addition, he co-founded the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society in 1999, which primarily serves students who do not use religion as a way to live in this world.
Even with his health troubles, he managed to write The Reality of Religious Violence: From Biblical to Modern Times (2019); The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015); Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011); This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies co-edited with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper (2007); The End of Biblical Studies (2007); Strangers in our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature (2005); Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005); Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience (Editor 2004); ¿Se puede saber si Dios existe? (2003); Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (1999); Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of The Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, Harvard Semitic Monographs 54(1995).
His nonbook published work was wide-ranging and included ancient health care, biblical studies, ethics, science and religion, and U.S. Latino literature. He was proud to be one of the few openly atheist biblical scholars in academia.
His successful career was due to his grandmother, Maria Refugio Avalos (January 6, 1916 to January 6, 2002), who was his primary caregiver. His mother, Magdalena Avalos Bernal, and stepfather, Ramon Bernal, were equally important.
Dr. Avalos is survived by his first wife, Lisa Avalos, who was instrumental to him, and he felt grateful to her. They remained good friends.
Cynthia Avalos, his current wife, was the love of his life, and they were each other's best friends. Additionally, he is survived by many beloved former students and supporters.
A memorial service is being planned for early fall 2021. His body has been cremated, and his remains will be interred at the Iowa State University Cemetery.
Memorial donations can be made to the Vasculitis Foundation, representing those who suffer from various diseases affecting blood vessels, including Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, and also known as Wegener's Granulomatosis, the illness that Avalos endured since about 1978.
You are invited to share your memories at a celebration of the life of Dr. Hector Avalos, Sunday August 15, 2021 at 1 O'clock in the Afternoon with sharing starting at 2 o'clock in the Memorial Union on the Iowa State University Campus 2229 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50011. Parking is available in the Memorial Union Parking Ramp.
Online condolences may be directed to www.grandonfuneralandcremationcare.com
I knew Hector before he knew me. I knew him as a young fundamentalist Christian, back in the 90s, when I would attend debates between himself and one of our fundamentalist pastors at that time. Sadly, it took me a few more years to realize how right he was and how wrong I was. Once I acknowledged and welcomed my own journey to atheism, I wrote him an email and expressed my apologies to him for having given so much of my mind and heart to such a wrong-headed ideology, and thanking him for his efforts to open our minds to evidence and the pursuit of inquiry. We became good friends after that, and he was always a kind person, with a thoughtful word and concern for others. I will greatly miss him, but I am thankful that we were able to have a friendship and bond before the last curtain call. May his tireless work and dedication inspire many more young people to keep working to always uncover the truth, however uncomfortable it might be. -- Lizmari M. Collazo
I knew Hector when he was at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and part of a postdoctoral program for humanities scholars. It was an enormous privilege to work with him and to know him. A gentle soul, he radiated good will and knowledge. I was immensely proud of his work and his faculty career at Iowa State University. With deepest sympathy and admiration for life well lived, Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita, University of Michigan
Cindy, I am so very sorry of learn of Hector's death. My prayers and thoughts are with you. Please let me know when you decide to have his memorial service. I have such fond memories of taking classes with him and being in study groups together at the U of AZ. Hector was a wonderful person. He will be missed. Gretchen Brittain, Tucson
I am very sorry to hear that Professor Avalos has passed. I have always regretted that I didn’t discover his classes until my last semester when I took a religion class. He was a fantastic teacher, fun and interesting and I wish I had had the time to take more of his classes before graduation. I remember the first day of class, he took attendance without a list, saying each of our names from memory and then looking at each of us and saying, “Trust me, I’ll notice if you don’t come to class.” I was a bit intimidated, and very impressed. I also never missed a single day of class, but more because I enjoyed it than fear of censure. His lessons were always so fascinating and engaging. He really inspired me. Now, almost twenty years later and half a world away, I’m a teacher myself and he still inspires me to get my students involved and ask them the questions that will make them think and evaluate the world around them. He will be missed.
I was happy to have Dr. Avalos as a professor at ISU by accident. I enjoyed Latino Literature so much, I took New Testament the next year. He will be missed by so many.
I greatly enjoyed his books and his ability and willingness to think outside of conventional norms and challenge status quo bias. He will be greatly missed. A hero of mine.
Dear Cindy, I will always remember the year you and Hector joined us at Bethsaida. Hector and I had many stimulating conversations in the hot sun, which I will not soon forget. May his memory be eternal.
You had to go early if Dr. Avalos was the featured speaker. Latecomers often found themselves in Standing Room Only . A dynamic man, cheerful and erudite with prolific literary output.
I will miss him more than I can say. Eileen Mericle (Ames resident 50 years)
I am so very sorry to hear about Hector. I know from talking with you he was the love of your life.
My heart goes out to you. My thoughts and prayers are with you. A big hug for you and know I am
thinking of you. Hopefully we would love to see you at our IT coffee the first Thursday of each month!
Love to you... Carol Walker
Iowa State and Ames are a richer place because of Hector's commitment to diversity and intellectual excellence. He led an amazing life in spite of a long chronic illness. Rest in peace.
I came to ISU soon after Hector had founded the Latino Studies Program, the first such program in the state. A large part of my job was to build the library collections to support that new program and others. Hector was an early ally for me, someone who helped me feel like I belonged at ISU. He included me on the Program's steering committee where I served for many years, watching the program grow under his expert planning and administration. His many contributions to the Latinx community at ISU form part of his lasting legacy. He was very much one of a kind and will be missed.
I respect Hector for his incredible mind, sense of humor, and awareness of others. My favorite memory was when he debated Van Harden of WHO radio on matters of Christianity. Within minutes it was clear Mr. Harden was way our of his league. Hector methodically and with no ill intent dismantled any points Harden made. It was a joy to watch - one incredible mind and man that will be missed dearly.
I first encountered the work of Hector through his ground-breaking (and provocative) book, "The End of Biblical Studies," where he did not shy away from asking tough questions on the purpose of biblical scholarship in the modern world. I then read his other important contributions on "religious violence", and in 2015, a conference on Hector's work was organized at my university. One year later, a co-edited volume honouring Hector Avalos' scholarship was published: "The Global Impact of Religious Violence". Hector was a wonderful, generous friend and meticulous biblical scholar. It was privilege to have known him. He will be greatly missed.
Dr. Hector Avalos’ distinguished career at Iowa State stands as an exemplar to other Latinx faculty across the university. He courageously provided admirable leadership in the development of programs and curricula while also sustaining award-winning excellence in teaching and research endeavors. Moreover, his achievements and demeanor served as guiding light to many at Iowa State who had not encountered world class Latinx scholars before meeting him. He made straight a pathway for future Latinx professors.
I first met Hector and Cynthia at Bethsaida, and years later he wrote a wonderful article on the Hebrew Bible and its (many) positions on immigration for The Bible in Political Debate: What Does It Really Say? His article was so important, and I still use it yearly in my Hebrew Bible course. I also drew on his work on the ancient health care system for an article I wrote on Asklepios and Jesus, and we had many conversations about this, including by email, on the phone, and then in person at SBL. Beyond the academic influences he has had on my work, however, it is Hector's humanity, gentleness, and kindness that have had a far reaching impact on me. I am truly and deeply saddened at this news. I know that his memory will be a blessing for his family and for so many of us forever. But right now, I am just sad and extend my deepest, sincerest condolences.
Nov '15, Atlanta
I'm a lucky man because I got to learn from Hector Avalos in his Old Testament and New Testament classes; I got to hear him speak at several of Iowa State University's First Amendment Day celebrations; and I got to know him as we chatted many times over coffee and pie at his favorite spot in Ames, Iowa. There might have been a smarter, more giving man in this world, but I didn't know him. Rest In Peace, Dr. Avalos, and thanks for sharing your wisdom with me and all your other students.
Dr. Avalos was not just the best professor but one of the best friends and mentors in my life. Dr. Avalos’s life will be celebrated and his legacy will live through many students like me. Thank you Dr. Avalos. Celebrating you is easy but mourning your passing is one of the toughest things I had to do.
Sending the sincerest condolences ....to an exemplary colleague, scholar, and mentor.
Thank you for your genuine collegiality and exemplary intellectual and administrative example. I will forever be grateful for the stories you shared of the founding days of USLS and the continued support you provided to the program and to me. You will be missed!
Cindy, I was really sorry to hear of your loss. Our condolences.
Hector Avalos was a distinguished scholar and excellent colleague, whom I came to know during my time at Iowa State. My condolences to Cynthia and other members of his family.
Dr. Avalo's generosity, intelligence and dedication will always be remembered through his prodigious body of work. The secular world lost an icon with his passing. Our sincerest condolences to his friends and family.
Eva Quiñones, president. Humanistas de Puerto Rico.
Hector was an inspiration for all secular Hispanics - he will be greatly missed.
With Hector at Harvard University.
A truly wonderful person. I had listen to him speak several times and have three of his books including his last The Reality of Religious Violence a text book that is a culmination of his life's work. Hector will be missed by so many. My sympathies to Cynthia and the rest of Dr. Avalos family.
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Ames , IA, United States 50011