Dr. Joseph Cunningham

EUREKA — Dr. Joseph Cunningham is Eureka College’s 2021 Helen Cleaver Distinguished Teaching Award winner.

Cunningham, an assistant professor of religion who has taught at Eureka College for six years, received the award at EC's 160th commencement ceremony on May 15.

The award recognizes excellence, creativity and innovation in teaching. It includes a financial stipend, and the award-winner is the speaker at the college’s fall opening convocation. 

“I’m deeply honored by this award,” Cunningham said. “As a teacher, what I want most for my students is to help them grow as attentive, thoughtful readers of the world, people who think and live in responsible and intellectually honest ways, people who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions. It’s the courage to ask questions that leads to growth as a person.”

The award is named for a 1928 Eureka College alumna who had a long, successful teaching career and supported the college throughout her life. Faculty, staff and students make nominations, and a selection committee chooses the winner.

Cunningham grew up in central Michigan, just north of Flint. He was a first-generation college student, graduating from Greenville College in 2003. He received his master’s degree from the Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis University) in 2006. He then lived in England for three years while completing his PhD in theology at the University of Manchester.

From 2011-2013, he was a visiting professor of western civilization and culture at Eureka College, before becoming the pastor of a small church in Saginaw, Michigan. In 2018, Cunning returned to Eureka as an assistant professor of religion.

He's also an assistant editor of the journal Wesley and Methodist Studies (published through the Oxford Centre for Methodism and the Manchester Wesley Research Centre) and the author of John Wesley’s Pneumatology: Perceptible Inspiration (Routledge). His current project is a volume of collected essays called The Wesleyan Mind (Routledge), which explores the life, thought and impact of John Wesley within and beyond Methodism and the transatlantic world.

Cunningham lives in Eureka with his partner, Kathryn, and three children, Josephine (10), Stanley (8), and Frederick (5). He enjoys travel (pre- and post-COVID!), jogging, reading short stories and playing at the park with his kids.

Located in Eureka, Illinois, and chartered in 1855, Eureka College cultivates excellence in learning, service and leadership while providing students uniquely personalized and custom educational opportunities. 

Originally founded by abolitionist members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Eureka College holds the unique distinction of being the first college in Illinois and only the third in the nation to admit men and women on an equal basis. The College, which is located on nearly 70 wooded acres in central Illinois, is the smallest of only 24 colleges and universities to ever award a bachelor’s degree to a future President of the United States.