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Seaver Dean Emeritus W. David Baird Authors History of Churches of Christ in Oklahoma

This month the University of Oklahoma Press publishes Churches of Christ in Oklahoma: A History, a historical work by W. David Baird, Seaver Dean Emeritus and Howard A. White Professor Emeritus of History. Baird is a renowned scholar of history, particularly that of the state of Oklahoma and the American West. His connection with the University of Oklahoma is nearly as strong as his connection to Pepperdine—he earned his master’s degree and PhD there, and the university’s press has published many of his books.

Churches of Christ in Oklahomabegins with an account of the Stone-Campbell movement in the early 1800s and follows the evolution of Oklahoma’s Churches of Christ throughout the 20th century—a time when it developed a unique identity. Baird explores the role of Churches of Christ in the two world wars, how they grew in membership, and how that membership began to decline in the 1970s. 

He also discusses the churches’ outreach efforts and the issue of whether they will be able to grow in adherents in the future. One reason that Baird wrote the book was to share his belief that Churches of Christ, especially in Oklahoma, need to be aware of and celebrate their identity as a unique community of faith in order to thrive in the 21st century. “You cannot blend into the mass and expect to grow,” he says.

Baird extends this idea to institutions of higher education. “The historical record makes clear that retention of Christian mission requires more than a generic commitment to it.” Pepperdine, he says, “needs to be in the business of celebrating its Church of Christ roots, among the students it reaches, the faculty it appoints, the staff it selects, and the services it provides.” 

A native of Edmond, Oklahoma, Baird earned his AA degree from George Washington University, Washington, DC; his BA in history and geography from the University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond; and his MA and PhD in history and geography from the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Baird served on the history faculty at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville from 1968 to 1978 and Oklahoma State University from 1978 to 1988 before joining the faculty at Pepperdine's Seaver College as the Howard A. White Professor of History in 1988. He became dean of Seaver College in 1998, a position he held until 2008.

Baird's scholarly interests center upon the history of the American West and especially the history of Native Americans. His most notable books include a biography of Peter Pitchlynn, a history of the Quapaw Indians, and a history of the state of Oklahoma with Danney Goble. Baird is also the author of Quest for Distinction: Pepperdine University in the 20th Century, which chronicles Pepperdine's fascinating history, from its founding as a small faith-based college in 1937 to its emergence as a top-tier university at the turn of the century.

Baird has served as national president of the Western History Association and history honor society Phi Alpha Theta and as executive director of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association. As an undergraduate student, he worked full-time on the staff of John Jarman, Member of the House of Representatives, 5th Congressional District, Oklahoma.

Learn more about Baird's book, Churches of Christ in Oklahoma: A History, on the University of Oklahoma Press website.