Dr. Leavell grew up in West Texas. Following a year teaching English and History at Hong Kong Baptist College, he travelled around the world. During his master's work at Baylor he was assistant to the editor of A Journal of Church and State. Upon completion of his MA, he taught American and European history at Hardin-Simmons University. Subsequently, he served on the faculty of a Japanese university for three years and as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Japan for two additional years. Prior to joining the Furman faculty in 1974, Dr. Leavell was Director of Academic and Field Studies for Seinan Gakuin University's foreign exchange program.
While at Furman, he has taught for various study away programs in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. His courses have included Chinese History, Arts of East Asia, European Medieval History, Western Civilization, History of Japanese Religion, and Cultural History of Japan.
His professional service has included chair of the Asian Studies Department, director of the South Carolina Center for Teaching about Asia (SCCTA), president of the Southeast Regional Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, associate editor of the Southeast Review of Asian Studies, and chairman of the board for ASIANetwork. Dr. Leavell has studied religious pilgrimage throughout the world and served as a frequent lecturer for the Princess Cruise Lines.