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American Academy of Arts & Sciences Elects Two BU Profs

Paula Fredriksen, Larry Epstein among class of 2013

American Academy of Arts and Sciences AAAS, Paula Fredriksen The Aurelio Professor of Scripture Emerita, School of Theology STH, Larry Epstein College of Arts and Sciences CAS professor, economics

An expert on the history of early Christianity, Paula Fredriksen has written several books. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

At first, Paula Fredriksen was mystified by the emails that showed up in her inbox offering congratulations from friends and colleagues. The University’s William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture Emerita, Fredriksen was in Jerusalem, where she is a distinguished visiting professor at Hebrew University. “I didn’t have a clue what I was being congratulated about,” she says. Someone finally mentioned that she had been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS). “It wasn’t until I googled the AAAS web page and saw the 2013 class roster that I fully grasped my new circumstances,” says Fredriksen. “I had no idea that I was even under consideration. Few surprises are pleasant. This one certainly was!”

An expert on the history of early Christianity, Fredriksen is the author of several books, including Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, and Sin, the Early History of an Idea. She is currently working on two books: the first explores the reasons the disciple Paul’s Jewish messianic movement extended itself to pagan communities, and the second examines the first six Christian centuries. After those projects, says Fredriksen, she’s contemplating writing a cookbook.

Also elected to the AAAS is Larry Epstein, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of economics. A pioneer in the field of decision theory, which uses mathematical models to predict how people make decisions, Epstein studies the choices people make in different situations—from day-to-day shopping to investment decisions—to find common behaviors that should underlie their choices, regardless of their situation.

Larry Epstein is a pioneer in the field of decision theory. Photo courtesy of Epstein

Larry Epstein is a pioneer in the field of decision theory. Photo by Frank Curran

Epstein says he became interested in the field because “everyone makes decisions, and can introspect about how and why you, or family and friends, or stock market investors chose as they did. This, and the perplexing choices one sometimes observes, were strong motivations for me to try to understand better what is going on.” Epstein says that individual decision making “is a basic building block in much of economic theory and thus is important regardless of what kind of economics you study.” He was also drawn to decision theory, he says, because he enjoys “the rigorous and often elegant mathematic approach” used. The economist says he was “completely surprised and very happy” to learn of his election. “It is gratifying to receive this sort of recognition.”

Epstein and Fredriksen are among 185 leaders from academia, the arts and humanities, business, and public affairs who have been elected to join the academy this year; 12 foreign honorary members from around the globe were also elected. Founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, AAAS is one of the nation’s leading centers for independent policy research. Other members of the 2013 class include writers Annie Dillard and Jeffrey Eugenides, actors Robert DeNiro and Sally Field, singers Bruce Springsteen and Renée Fleming, and former US Senators Richard Lugar and John Glenn.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Professors Epstein and Fredriksen to the American Academy,” says Virginia Sapiro, dean of Arts & Sciences and an AAAS member. “Their election underscores the importance of their contributions to their respective fields of economics and religion and provides one more sign that Boston University faculty include many scholars who have achieved the highest level of respect and reputation in their fields.”

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences will formally welcome the new class of fellows at an induction ceremony at its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters on October 12, 2013. A list of this year’s inductees is available here.

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john o'rourke, editor, bu today
John O’Rourke

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

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