Professor discusses selection of Pope Francis as Time’s ‘Person of the Year’

Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D., author and religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, is available to discuss the selection of Pope Francis as Time magazine's "Person of the Year."

Chesnut said the recognition is extraordinary, given that the pope has been in his position for less than a year.

"He has almost single-handedly breathed new life into an institution that seemed to be on a very long-term decline, hemorrhaging members in Europe and Latin America," Chesnut said. "His charisma, charm and plainspokenness have captured the imagination of not only the world's 1.2 billion Catholic but also members of other faiths and even non-believers."

Chesnut said Pope Francis has rejected the emphasis on dogma and doctrine of his predecessor and of many American bishops and has chosen to put evangelization and service at the front and center of his mission.

"He, of course, has his detractors, especially among more conservative sectors of the church, but there is no doubt that in just nine months he has already become one of the most influential and inspirational pontiffs ever."

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies in VCU’sSchool of World Studies, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, and is an internationally recognized expert on Catholic topics. He is frequently interviewed by national and international media on Latin American religious history.

Chesnut first made the case for a shift by the Catholic Church to Latin America 10 years ago in his book, “Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy.” He is also the author of “Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and Pathogens of Poverty,” which traced the rapid rise of Pentecostalism in Brazil following the disestablishment of the Catholic Church, and “Devoted to Death: ‘Santa Muerte,’ The Skeleton Saint,” which analyzed the rising popularity of this folk saint in both Mexico and the United States.

Chesnut received his Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1995. In 1997, he joined the history department of the University of Houston, where he remained until coming to VCU. In 2008, he was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies in VCU’s School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D.
Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D.