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Humans of the Hilltop: Robert Fuller

Robert Fuller has published 13 books during his 39 years of teaching on the Hilltop.
photo by AJ Lamb

After 13 books and 39 years, Robert Fuller is still researching and teaching at Bradley University. But it’s not where he imagined his life would take him.

When the Michigan-native started at Denison University in Ohio, he was planning on a career in the courtroom instead of the classroom.

“I did not think I would ever be a college professor – I thought I would be an attorney,” Fuller said. “To fulfill a general education requirement, I had my choice, when it came down to it, of taking either introduction to philosophy or introduction to religious studies. Just because it fit into my schedule, I took introduction to religious studies.”

Fuller said he had a wonderful professor and was instantly hooked on everything he studied, so he decided to take another course in the subject.

“What is more interesting about being humans than what we think and how we feel?” Fuller said. “And what’s more interesting about all of our thoughts than our thoughts about religion and of all our feelings – religious feelings?”

After continuing religious studies coursework, Fuller said he decided he would change his major to religious studies but still planned on pursuing law school.

“By my senior year, I thought, ‘No,’” Fuller said. “This is a field that I’m very fascinated by and applied to my Ph.D. program, and here I am.”

Once he made the switch, Fuller went to the University of Chicago for his graduate program, and then it was on to the job market.

“I was looking for something that wanted somewhat of a generalist and someone who specifically wanted American religion or psychology of religion,” Fuller said. “One of the job openings that I thought my background [fit] was Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, a city I had never been to … I applied for it and was brought down for an interview, and I fell in love with it right there.”

Fuller said he found his perfect fit coming to Bradley due in part to the expectations the university has for its professors.

“When you graduate from a top graduate school, you need to make a decision yourself: ‘Did I go into this because I want to do research, or did I do it because I want to teach?’” Fuller said. “I knew that I wanted both, but the biggest emphasis would be on the teaching … and that’s the beautiful thing about Bradley; we consider ourselves teacher-scholars.”

Fuller said he enjoyed the ability to pursue teaching, which he said he adored, while still being able to research new and exciting topics.

“In the last three or four years, I’ve teamed with expert people in our Psychology Department, specifically Dr. Hermann, Dr. Derrick Montgomery and Dr. Dave Schmitt, to do experimental study of religion … We now have a cross-disciplinary lab for the psychology of religion, and we have produced some really interesting articles,” Fuller said.

Fuller said his research is typically based on readings and others’ findings, but the lab’s experiments are brand new for him and the department.

“I don’t want to be ending my career in a tired [manner] or [with] a sense of repetitiveness or boredom,” Fuller said. “That’s why I’ve challenged myself to do this work with the psychology professors.”

Fuller said his new skills and research methods could not be possible without the help from the other talented professors, but these new findings may not lead to a 14th book at this time.

 After 13 of them, I’m really working on journal articles,” Fuller said. “But I’ll never say never that there won’t be another one.”

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