Staff Spotlight: Malcolm Foley

A few weeks ago we sat down with graduate student and intern Malcolm Foley to get his life story and take on the Baylor Collections of Political Materials. In the process, we learned a little about church history and its relationship to archive work.


Let’s start with the basics: Name, rank, social security number.

I’m Malcolm Foley. You’re not gonna get my social security number.


I’m going into my second year of my Ph.D. in the Religion department with a focus on historical studies. I say “Church History” just to keep it easy.

That’s pretty broad. How do you define “church” and “history,” specifically?

Specifically, the history of the Christian church. There tends to be more of a theological focus in my research. The period I’m focused on is the Reformation — 16th and 17th century. Even more specifically, how [those periods] link to previous periods in church history, such as the Medieval period and the Patristic — the early church fathers — as well.

Tell me more about the Patristic period.

The name “Patristic” is just used to describe the period from the 2nd century to as late as the 7th century. It’s a period of theological formation for the church; the big questions are being asked, there are a number of church councils that happen during that period that are accepted among Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox believers. There are a number of thinkers from that period that I’ve found extremely fascinating.

Anybody stand out?

My favorites are Cyril of Alexandria and Maximus the Confessor. For me, [those two are linked] in the way they contribute to a holistic understanding of Christ’s person and work. Everyone in later periods of the church tends to work out of a framework that’s basically solidified by them. They’re coming in a lineage of thought, but those two, in their mature, christological thought, have some of the most fascinating theological content in church history.

Calvin’s my guy in the Reformation. As opposed to, for example, Luther, Calvin likes the church fathers a lot. Calvin argues extensively that the Reformation gets the church fathers “right” more than the contemporary Catholic church did. One huge piece of his own anti-Catholic polemic is that he thinks they’ve got Augustine wrong. But he also channels the early church in his treatment of Christ and his benefits. Looking at my research, tracing out the way that works is something that is going to be cool to do. And, of course, a number of modern denominations trace their history back to Calvin and Luther and the Reformation, so I think properly understanding that period in its historical context is helpful for Christian thought, period.

Does your work tend to focus more on Protestant theology, then?

It does, but when I was doing my Masters of Divinity I focused almost entirely on the early church and the medieval period, and that stuff is “Catholic” in the lower case sense — dealing with the universal church, so it’s definitely not to the exclusion of non-Protestant Christian communions.

My transition in focus from early church to more recent periods has been kind of interesting in and of itself. In my first semester at Baylor, I took a class on American Christianity after the Civil War and that made me all the more aware of the interaction of race and religion, specifically in the American context. That’s pulling me further forward from my research, but that’s something that I found extremely interesting. It’s a narrative that I think is necessary in any articulation of American history — especially American religious history — but American history, period; the interaction between race and religion and how race is articulated using religious language.

I don’t know enough about religion in America, so you’ll have to forgive me on some of this, but when you’re talking about race and religion after the American Civil War, I’m assuming you mean black and white communities’ relationships?

In the few years before, during, and following the Civil War, a number of denominations split. It splits the Presbyterians, it splits the Baptists, and it generally split them between North and South, where the South wanted to maintain slavery and the Northerners didn’t want there to be slavery at all. There were a number of churches that didn’t take African American members and such. What’s interesting is that after the Civil War, when the country is trying to put itself back together, there are initially a number of efforts for racial reconciliation specifically within churches.

But what ends up overshadowing those efforts for reconciliation is Northern and Southern whites being reconciled. In the fall I’m presenting a paper on an African American Presbyterian pastor who protested the reunification of northern and southern Presbyterians. He asked northern Presbyterians, “Why are you trying to reunite with southern Presbyterians when they’re treating their African American brothers and sisters in this way (ignoring them, keeping them out of membership, those kinds of things). Why is it more important for you to reunite with them when they’re not properly showing the love of Christ?” He loses that battle, but that’s a perspective that brings out one of the things that’s going on during that period. Reconciliation happens on a national level but there are a number of divisions that still continue.

Where did you get your Masters of Divinity?

Yale Divinity School.

I hear that’s a good school.

(laughter.) Yeah, pretty good! I absolutely loved my time there, especially the church I attended. I had a lot of good mentorship there, opportunities to preach, and opportunities to teach adult Sunday School. My goal ultimately, even for the use of this Ph.D., is to pastor with a focus on adult Christian education and possibly teach at the seminary level. The resources I’m spending all this time with are meant for the edification of the church so I want to use them to that end.

Why Baylor?

A professor of mine who taught me Latin and most of Medieval Theology left the program to teach here — Junius Johnson in the Great Texts program. That’s what initially got Baylor on my radar. It’s been a wonderful place to be.

And how’d you come to the Baylor Collections of Political Materials?

In putting through the application for the internships at the libraries, you’re considered for all of them. I wanted to do something productive over the summer and I knew that a lot of the research I’m going to be doing will be archival. I did a little bit of that over the past year. I figured that spending a summer in an archive would be a fruitful research experience, especially since I’m embarking on a life of research and teaching. I knew that wherever I was placed I would learn what it is to do the work of an archivist and that would ultimately help me as a researcher.

Right now I’m finishing up the Finding Aid for Hatton W. Sumners’s papers. He was a Congressman from 1913—1947. His main papers are with the Dallas Historical Society. We’ve got a number of personal letters between him and his mom and his sister. Very little official stuff; you get to see a private side of a public figure.

3 thoughts on “Staff Spotlight: Malcolm Foley

  1. Hello, Malcolm! I just finished reading your piece in Issue 122 of Christian History magazine and appreciate your fine ability to write clearly with great insight. I hope to read more from you over time.
    Warm regards,
    Bob Adelmann

    1. Mr. Adelmann, we will be sure to let Malcolm know of your kind words! We have enjoyed working with him and look forward to more good things to come!

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