boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Jaroslav Pelikan, 82, scholar of the history of Christianity

NEW HAVEN -- Yale University professor Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the world's foremost scholars of the history of Christianity, has died of lung cancer, his son said yesterday. He was 82.

Dr. Pelikan wrote more than 30 books, using sources in nine languages and dealing with literary and musical as well as doctrinal aspects of religion. He died Saturday at his home in Hamden.

''For a man as talented and accomplished as he was, he was also exceptionally kind and genuinely humble," said his son, Michael. ''The more he learned, the more amazed he was by how much he did not know."

A Lutheran convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, Dr. Pelikan was a former president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

His works include an acclaimed five-volume text, ''The Christian Tradition," which follows the story of Christianity from its origins to modern times.

Dr. Pelikan's ''Whose Bible Is It?", published in 2005, explored how people of different faiths interpret the Bible. He said language and cultural differences led to varying interpretations of the Scriptures.

His conclusion, he said in an interview with National Public Radio last year, was that, ''Christians and Jews need each other in an effort to understand the sacred text they share."

Though renowned as an expert on religion, Dr. Pelikan preferred studying history and rarely waded into modern religious debates.

''There ought to be somebody who speaks to the other 19 centuries," he said in a 1983 interview with the Christian Science Monitor. ''Not everybody should be caught in this moment. I'm filing a minority report on behalf of the past."

Dr. Pelikan joined the Yale faculty in 1962 and later was designated a Sterling professor, an honor reserved for the university's most distinguished professors.

The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Dr. Pelikan in 1983 to deliver the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government confers for achievement in the humanities.

He twice delivered the Guifford Lectures in Scotland, considered one of the foremost lecture series dealing with religion, science, and philosophy. He also founded the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress in 1980.

In 2004, Dr. Pelikan and 91-year-old French philosopher Paul Ricoeur shared the $1 million Kluge prize that honors scholars in such areas as history, sociology, and anthropology -- fields not covered by the Nobel prizes.

Also that year, Dr. Pelikan published a book comparing the way the Bible and the US Constitution have been understood and applied. The book, ''Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution," cited 72 Supreme Court rulings, 94 Christian creeds, and numerous Bible verses.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives