Professor of Philosophy Ed Henderson Retires, Students Recall Masterful Teacher
By Maggie Heyn Richardson
BATON ROUGE – Thirty-eight years after enrolling in Professor Edward H. Henderson’s philosophy of religion class at LSU, Don Broussard still remembers how it felt to explore life’s great questions for the first time. Broussard’s handwritten notes from the first day of class remain folded today inside his copy of “Faith and Speculation” by English theologian Austin Farrer, part of the class’s required reading list. The book sits on Broussard’s nightstand. Now a town planner in Atlanta, Ga., Broussard said he has never forgotten Henderson’s powerful, yet relaxed, ability to expose students to the traditions of thought.
“His lectures were always interesting, and frequently, profound,” said Broussard. “He was not only a first-rate philosopher and teacher, but he came across as someone you could trust to give you good counsel regarding school and career issues. He was one of the best professors I had at LSU, and continued to be one of my favorites after LSU Law and graduate school at Catholic University and Georgia Tech.”
This spring, Henderson announced his retirement from the LSU Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences after 46 years. Comments about his passion for teaching and impact on the university have been in rich supply ever since. Henderson was a beloved lecturer, and his enthusiasm for fostering learning helped spawn the LSU Honors College.
Born and raised in Gunderson, Ala., Henderson earned an undergraduate degree from Rhodes College and a doctorate from Tulane University. He taught at a small college in Missouri for a few years before accepting a position at LSU.
LSU Professor of Philosophy Mary Sirridge worked with Henderson for 35 years, and said he was a natural at distilling complex concepts for a broad spectrum of students. No matter their field of study, Henderson’s students walked away with a deeper understanding of, and a new appreciation for, the studies of philosophy and religion.
“He was a first rate lecturer, and that’s a real talent,” said Sirridge. “It demands both deep understanding of the material, and clarity of thought. He was always so interested in helping students learn and in developing their particular interests.”
Early in his career at LSU, Henderson also helped create courses in a new program called the Honors Division. It provided opportunities for high-level students during a time when LSU, like many state universities, lacked admissions standards. Henderson and a few other faculty members taught small sections of humanities courses. His included the great philosophers and the development of Western civilization. The Honors Division led to the establishment of the LSU Honor College, where Henderson eventually served as associate dean.
Over the last decade, Henderson may be best known for the popular honors course he developed and taught on C.S. Lewis and the Oxford Christians.
“The students really responded to the material,” he said.
Henderson is quick to dismiss compliments about his instructional talents, saying that the pursuit of teaching was what drew him to the academy in the first place. He does, however, acknowledge he created a classroom that encouraged discussion because it made students feel comfortable.
“If you give students the sense that it’s OK to ask a question, then they’re more likely to make a comment, or respond to something someone else is saying,” said Henderson. “I liked for them to be able to hear from each other.”
Henderson served for many years as chair of the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, and is credited for strengthening it and broadening its research interests to include religious studies.
At the end of the spring 2012 semester, Henderson began cleaning out the hundreds of books that line the shelves of Coates Hall office. He said he’ll spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren in retirement, and perhaps do some fishing, one of his favorite pastimes. He also said he’ll also be a fixture at his other office, Highland Coffees, where he might even continue to write and research.
For more information on the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, visit http://hss.lsu.edu.