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William H. Poteat Papers

Call Number: RG 243

Scope and Contents

The documentation contained in this collection was gathered from 2009-2014 at the impetus of Walter B. Mead. Mead was a doctoral student in Political Science at Duke University, 1960-1963, at the beginning of Poteat’s career at Duke, and he later became greatly influenced by Poteat’s writings and a close friend. Mead contacted former students of William Poteat, and others influenced by him, asking them to provide writings and correspondence of Poteat. The collection has been organized according to the contributors of the material, in order to retain information about the varied provenance of the material.

This collection consists of both classroom and public lectures (in both written and audio format) by William H. Poteat, an audio interview of him by one of his students, extensive correspondence between Professor Poteat and his students (and a few who had never taken his courses or seminars), essays and segments of his books in various stages of draft form, his doctoral dissertation, course notes taken by some of his students, and some journalistic clippings relating to Professor Poteat. It also includes reflective observations by those who had conversed with Poteat as readers of his writings, and by those privileged to have had, also, extensive personal contact with him as friends or colleagues, as well as those who participated, between 1968 and 1978 in annual, multi-day, informal, “retreat” symposiums, often traveling from distant parts of the United States in order to reflect upon and extend their earlier learning experiences with him. (These gatherings came to be known as the ‘Dutch Creek Falls’ symposiums after a location in North Carolina where the group often met. To get a sense of the characteristic conviviality of those who came under the charismatic influence of Professor Poteat, read “A Reflection on the Ethos of the ‘Poteat Bunch’,” in the file of James W. Stines, the principal symposium convener.) Copies of William H. Poteat’s obituaries are also included in this collection; also a complete bibliography of his published writings, a general, chronological outline of his life and career, four brief intellectual biographies of Poteat, and an essay that addresses the question of how his thinking relates to that of his chief mentor, Michael Polanyi.

In order to facilitate an introduction of Professor Poteat to the scholar who comes fairly new to these materials, the following have been pulled from the files of the individual contributors to this collection and placed, together with this present “Description of the William Hardman Poteat Collection,” in an introductory section to provide a relatively brief overview of the person and of the significance of his scholarly contributions: a) A Chronology of William H. Poteat’s Life and Career; b) The Question of Whether William Poteat is a ‘Polanyian’; c) A Bibliography of Poteat’s Published Writings; d) Two Brief Intellectual Biographies, by Ronald L. Hall and R. Taylor Scott, Assessing Poteat’s Contributions as a Philosopher; e) A Brief Intellectual Biography by James W. Stines, Assessing Poteat’s Contributions as a Theologian.


  • 1954–2018


Language of Materials

In English .

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Walter B. Mead and others, 2011, 2014, 2015


  1. I. Poteat Documentation, 1954-2010
  2. II. Audio Recordings, 1966-2008
  3. III. Writings of Poteat


3 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


This collection documents the thought and work of William H. Poteat, a Yale Divinity School graduate who taught at Duke University from 1960 to 1987. The material was gathered by Walter B. Mead, who contacted former students and colleagues of Poteat, asking them to provide writings and correspondence of Poteat that document his contributions to the field of philosophy of religion.

Biographical / Historical

See Box 1, Folder 1 for a more detailed chronology of Poteat's life and work, particularly as it relates to thought of Michael Polanyi.


1919 April 19
William Hardman Poteat (WHP) was born in China, the son of Baptist missionaries and a member of a long line of North Carolina educators. He spent the first ten years of his life in China.
Completed his high school education in Raleigh, North Carolina
B.A. degree from Oberlin College with Phi Beta Kappa honors
B.D. Yale Divinity School
Served as a program coordinator for the YMCA at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Joined the faculty of the Philosophy Department at the University of North Carolina as instructor. Philosophy of Religion was immediately, and would remain throughout his teaching career, a major area of concentration.
Ph.D. Duke University
Having risen to the rank of associate professor at UNC, Poteat received an Outstanding Teaching Award in 1955
Taught at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, TX
Joined Duke University Divinity School faculty as an associate professor of Christianity and Culture
Joined the Department of Religion at Duke University, increasing his role in advising and directing doctoral theses
Poteat and his colleague, Thomas A. Langford, completed their editorial work on Intellect and Hope: Essays in the Thought of Michael Polanyi, published that year by the Duke University Press for the Lilly Endowment Research Program in Christianity and Politics.
Named to the National Humanities Faculty
Chaired the Department of Religion at Duke University
Polanyian Meditations: In Search of a Post-Critical Logic published by the Duke University Press
Professor Emeritus, Duke University
A Philosophical Daybook: Post-Critical Investigations published by the University of Missouri Press
Recovering the Ground: Critical Exercises in Recollection published by the State University of New York Press
Taught in the adult education program at Athens College (a part of the State University of New York system) in Greece, where his wife, Patricia Poteat, served as president, 1994 – 1999
2000 May 17
Died after an extended illness. He was survived by his wife, Patricia; three children, Susan Poteat Uhler; Anne Carlyle; and Edwin McNeill Poteat III; three grandchildren; and his two sisters, Haley McGill and Elizabeth Terry
Guide to the William H. Poteat Papers
Martha Lund Smalley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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