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Dr. Hector Avelos

October 8, 1958 ~ April 12, 2021 (age 62)


Dr. Hector Avalos died Monday morning, April 12, 2021, after a battle with cancer. 

Dr, Avalos was born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico  October 8, 1958. His early education began in an elementary school in Mexico and continued in Glendale, Arizona. Later he attended Glendale Community College.  While a student at the University of Arizona, he contracted Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis requiring him to drop out of his degree program in Anthropology in 1978. He battled with this disease and/or complications from it until the end of his life. More than once, his medical doctors advised him to put his affairs in order, but scientific discoveries and new treatments allowed him to continue. Dr. Anthony Fauci developed a medical regime that improved his life and going forward, he was joyous every time he saw Dr. Fauci. Avalos also had admiration for his medical team at the McFarland Clinic in Ames, Iowa, and felt that they are some of our finest medical professionals.   He returned to the University of Arizona in 1980, and proceeded to pass out of classes allowing him to make up lost time. He completed his sophomore, junior, and senior years in three semesters. He stayed another year to pursue a master's degree in anthropology (though he never did finish it).  He was awarded a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. In 1991 he received a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Philology from Harvard's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  After graduating from Harvard, he moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had appointments in anthropology and religious studies.

Dr. Avalos joined the Religious Studies faculty at Iowa State University in 1993 and founded the US Latino/a Studies Program. He was named Professor of the Year in 1996, and he won the Outstanding Professor Award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the same year. He was the first recipient (1996) of the Early Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He won a Master Teacher in 2003-04 in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also won the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence in 2016 for helping to develop the US Latino/a Studies Program. Other awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers in 2016, and the first Hispanic American Freethinkers Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington D.C. in 2018, and was inducted to the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in 2019.  In addition, he co-founded the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society in 1999, which primarily serves students who do not use religion as a way to live in this world.

Even with his health troubles, he managed to write The Reality of Religious Violence: From Biblical to Modern Times (2019); The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (2015); Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship (2011); This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies co-edited with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper (2007); The End of Biblical Studies (2007); Strangers in our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature (2005); Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005); Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience (Editor 2004); ¿Se puede saber si Dios existe? (2003); Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (1999); Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of The Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, Harvard Semitic Monographs 54(1995).  His nonbook published work was wide-ranging and included ancient health care, biblical studies, ethics, science and religion, and U.S. Latino literature. He was proud to be one of the few openly atheist biblical scholars in academia.

His successful career was due to his grandmother, Maria Refugio Avalos (January 6, 1916 to January 6, 2002), who was his primary caregiver. His mother, Magdalena Avalos Bernal, and stepfather, Ramon Bernal, were equally important.

Dr. Avalos is survived by his first wife, Lisa Avalos, who was instrumental to him, and he felt grateful to her. They remained good friends.  Cynthia Avalos, his current wife, was the love of his life, and they were each other's best friends. Additionally, he is survived by many beloved former students and supporters.

A Celebration of Life Gathering will be held from 1:00 until 5:00 p.m. Sunday, August 15, 2021, in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union an Iowa State University Campus where you are invited to share your memories.  His remains have been interred at Iowa State University Cemetery.  Memorial donations can be made to the Vasculitis Foundation, representing those who suffer from various diseases affecting blood vessels, including granulomatosis with polyangiitis.  Also known as wegener's granulomatosis, this was the illness that Dr. Avalos endured since about 1978. 

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