The James W. Richard Lectures are funded by an endowment established by the will of Este Coffinberry, probated in 1923. The will specifies that one lecture is to be in religion and another in history, especially comparative history. It also provides that the lectures are to be such that the University might publish them as a book.

Past James W. Richard Lecturers include theologians and philosophers Etienne Gilson, Paul Tillich, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Thomas Torrance, Nicholas Lash, and Langdon Gilkey; and historians Jaroslav Pelikan, Jacob Neusner, and Edmund Morgan.

Recent James W. Richard Lecturers include philosopher Stephen Mulhall, political theorist Quentin Skinner, historian Lynn Hunt, and religious studies scholar David Schulman.