Dr. Suzanne Watts Henderson felt called to pursue her Ph.D when she realized her behavior wasn't normal. Going up into the attic to store baby clothes, she'd find herself rereading papers she'd written in her master's program at Princeton Theological Seminary.
In her last semester at Princeton, she had participated in a doctoral seminar examining Mark. She loved the challenge of it, and she immersed herself in examining the disciples' incomprehension. Her professor, Dr. Joel Marcus, encouraged her that she had found something new.
After graduation Dr. Henderson raised three children and had three careers. She worked as a private school teacher, a minister, and a corporate writer - but continued to be drawn up those stairs. After nine years of attic visits she applied to pursue a doctoral degree at Duke University.
She didn't set out to write on the Gospel of Mark. Yet perhaps it was meant to be. As she was diving into her dissertation, Dr. Marcus began work at Duke. "That felt very providential," Dr. Henderson said. She began extending the thesis she had originally argued in 1990 - and had kept re-reading in the attic.
Drawn to Messy Mark
Now, her ideas on Mark are out in the world. Her dissertation was later published as a monograph with Cambridge University Press, and Dr. Henderson is widely recognized for her New Testament scholarship. She's working on a commentary making the Gospel of Mark more accessible for pastors and lay people.
"I am drawn to Mark of the four gospels because it is the messiest," she said. "It leaves a lot of gaps in the story and a lot of confusion, and it's not at all concerned with doctrinal matters."
Likely written during a period of upheaval and chaos, the Gospel of Mark also focuses on sacrifice. "It's not just Jesus's sacrifice," she said. "It's a much more participatory understanding of Jesus's suffering in that his followers also have to sacrifice their own interest for the good of others."
She's currently drafting a book, tentatively titled Jesus Christ Incorporated, based on the premise that viewing Jesus as an exclusive messiah is a more recent doctrine, as early Christians had a more participatory or communal view. She has also been asked by Abingdon Press to write a textbook called Jesus and the Gospels: A Study of Messianic Community. It will be used for upper-level undergrad and intro masters level courses.
High standards, high approachability
Today, Dr. Henderson directs the Center for Ethics and Religion and teaches Bible, World Religions and courses in the Core Program in the Liberal Arts.
"My focus at Queens is really on my students. I teach in the Core program, and I love the freshness that incoming first year students bring. I love the challenge of exposing them to the thrill of academic inquiry."
- Dr. Suzanne Watts Henderson
Her service to students and Queens is recognized across campus. "Her students benefit from her scholarly work in biblical studies because she can answer every question, make brilliant connections between texts and subjects, and encourage students to read closely and think broadly," said Dr. Lynn Morton, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Henderson's academic knowledge doesn't get in the way of her approachability either. "She sets the bar high for her students, but she is always willing to help them reach it."
Senior Christina Cosby '14, a Religious Studies major, says Dr. Henderson's high expectations push students to do their best. "Through her pass/fail daily reading reflections I've learned the importance of putting my best effort forward every time," she said. "This has translated to my other course work, and really, to my performance in everything I do, whether it's an extra-curricular or an internship."
She added, "In class Dr. Henderson is always energetic and excited about the subjects she teaches... Outside of class she's a great person to talk to and cares a lot about individuals and their lives."
In recognition of her outstanding teaching, Dr. Henderson was awarded the university's 2013 Joseph W. Grier, Jr., Distinguished Professor Award. "She understands the need to both challenge and encourage students," said Philosophy and Religion Department Chair Dr. Norris Frederick
. "She definitely displays a pastoral sensitivity her manner of dealing with students, helping them to discover what is best for them."