Thomas Frank
Thomas Frank
University Professor
Office: ZSR Library 330
Phone: 336.758.6138
Region: United States
Theme: Cultural and Intellectual History, Religion and Society


THOMAS EDWARD FRANK is University Professor and teaches primarily in the Department of History at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A scholar of American religious history, Professor Frank teaches undergraduate history courses on religious utopian communities, liberal arts colleges, and contemporary issues of conservation of the natural and built landscape.  He also offers courses in spirituality and the arts in the School of Divinity.

A graduate of Harvard College (B.A.) and Emory University (M.Div. and Ph.D.), Dr. Frank completed a Masters in Heritage Preservation at Georgia State University in 2006. He taught at Emory University for 23 years before coming to Wake Forest in 2010.

Dr. Frank’s publications include a study of the relationship of Protestant Christianity and the liberal arts college in his Theology, Ethics, and the Nineteenth Century American College Ideal (Mellen 1993). He has written extensively on the culture and place of American congregations; his book The Soul of the Congregation (Abingdon 2000) exploring congregational narrative and sense of place is widely used in clergy education. Author of the standard textbook on the evolution and practice of United Methodist polity and organization, Polity, Practice, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church (3rd Ed., Abingdon 2006), he has written polity articles for the Encyclopedia of Religion in  America (2010),the Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies (2009) and the T and T Clark Companion to Methodism (2010), and co-authored with Russell E. Richey Episcopacy in Methodist Tradition: Perspectives and Proposals (Abingdon 2004).


B.A.      Harvard University
M.Div.   Emory University
Ph.D.    Emory University
M.A.      Georgia State University (Historic Preservation)

Academic Appointments:
Wake Forest University.  University Professor (2010-present)
Emory University.  Professor (2003-2010); Associate Professor (1993-2003); Assistant Professor (1987-1993)
Eden Theological Seminary.  Assistant Professor (1986-1987)



  • FYS 100 Religious Utopias.
    If you had some land, a few friends and followers, and a vision of a new society that lived up to all your highest religious ideals, what kind of community would you build? This course explores several religious groups in 19th century America and their efforts to create “religious utopias.” We explore how they answered basic questions that all societies face: How should men and women relate to each other? How should children be raised? What is the nature of work and how should it be rewarded? What kind of buildings does a community need, and how should they be designed and arranged? What is the place of education, arts, and music in a good society? Who has the authority to interpret and defend a religious ideal, and what should be done when others disagree? We then turn these questions toward contemporary American society and ask what we can learn from the successes and failures, hopes and dreams, of religious utopias.
  • HST 366 Historic Preservation
    Why and how should we save old buildings like empty mills or factories, shotgun houses or run-down mansions, abandoned hotels or boarded-up Main Streets? Why and how should we preserve the landscapes of old farms or mountaintops, Civil War battlefields or viewsheds of historic monuments? What could my company or organization do with an older building, or what would I do if I bought a 100-year-old house? These kinds of questions drive this course as we explore the movements in historic preservation and conservation in the U.S. and around the world. Through site visits to places such as 18th century Moravian towns, the Innovation Quarter downtown, and Reynolda Estate closer to campus, and through reading the story and legal frameworks of these movements, we examine the possibilities and challenges, successes and losses, that mark the effort to sustain our natural and built environment in the 21st century
  • HST 381 Religious Utopias and the American Experience
    Religious groups of many different origins have found in North America an open space for creating settlements that would embody their ideals.  This course surveys a range of such eighteenth- and nineteenth-century communities, including Moravians, Rappites, Shakers, and the Oneida and Amana colonies.
  • HST 382. Religion in the Development of American Higher Education.
    This course examines the role of religious groups in the founding of American colleges and universities, and explores how their role has changed across history up through contemporary trends and issues. Seven major themes provide the framework of the course: the heritage of religion in European higher education; institutions of higher education founded by specific American religious groups including Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Jewish traditions; religion in the liberal arts curriculum; religious activities in student life; the relationship of colleges and universities with religious sponsors and constituents with a special focus on controversies such as science and religion; the impact of universities on liberal arts colleges; and the trends toward growth and “secularization” in the last fifty years. Cross-listed as REL 390.

Monographs and Edited Collections

  • Polity, Practice, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press, 2006).
  • Episcopacy in the Methodist Tradition: Perspectives and Proposals (Abingdon Press, 2004), with Russell E. Richey.
  • The Soul of the Congregation:  An Invitation to Congregational Reflection. Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2000.
  • Theology, Ethics, and the Nineteenth Century American College Ideal (Mellen Press, 1993.

Articles and Essays

  • “’I Came Out of a Methodist Parsonage’: John Andrew Rice and the Dispositions of an Educator” Journal of Black Mountain College Studies 7 (Spring 2015)
  • “Leadership and Administration: An Emerging Field in Practical Theology” International Journal of Practical Theology 10:1 (2006), pp. 113-136.