Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 9, 2006|Volume 34, Number 30|Five-Week Issue















Jaroslav Pelikan

In Memoriam: Jaroslav Pelikan

Renowned scholar of church history

Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the world's foremost scholars of the history of Christianity, died of lung cancer on May 13 at his home in Hamden, Connecticut. He was 82.

Pelikan, a member the Yale faculty since 1962, was Sterling Professor Emeritus of History. He served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 1973 to 1978.

He was the author of more than 30 books, including his epic five-volume "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of the Doctrine" (published between 1971 and 1989), which examines Christianity from early Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to the Reformation and modern era. He also translated and edited the works of Martin Luther in 22 volumes. His other books include his most recent, "Whose Bible Is It?" (2005), "Jesus Through the Centuries," "Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture," "The Riddle of Roman Catholicism," "The Mystery of Continuity," "The Melody of Theology," "Eternal Feminines," "Bach Among the Theologians," "Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution" and "The Vindication of Tradition," to name just some of them.

"Jaroslav Pelikan was a scholar of incomparable erudition and brilliance," said President Richard C. Levin. "His devotion to learning, his family and his faith inspired us all. And his sparkling wit enlivened every occasion."

Born Dec. 17, 1923, in Akron, Ohio, to the Reverend Jaroslav J. Pelikan Sr. and Anna Buzek Pelikan, Pelikan was named after an elder brother who had died at 10 days old. Many years later, Pelikan observed, "By giving me his name, which I'm told in pediatric psychiatry is not a good idea, I'm sure in some sense [my parents] saw me as a surrogate for him. I unconsciously took that role of fulfilling the hopes they had for him as well as for me."

His father was a Lutheran minister from Slovakia, and his mother was a schoolteacher who was born in Serbia. The young Pelikan could read by the age of 2, and as a young boy spoke several languages, including Slovakian, Serbo-Croat, Czech and German. He was only 9 years old when he was admitted to Oliver High School. He graduated from Concordia (Junior) College in 1942 and in 1946 earned both a B.D. from Concordia Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Before coming to Yale, Pelikan served on the faculties at Valparaiso University, Concordia Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago.

As both a scholar and a teacher, he was known for interests that ranged from philosophy to music to rhetoric to legal theory. From 1984 to 1986, as the William Clyde DeVane Lecturer at Yale -- a title that honors distinguished members of the faculty and allows them to teach an interdisciplinary undergraduate course that is also open to the public -- he attracted large audiences to his talks on Jesus and Mary.

In his own religious life, Pelikan was brought up in a strict Lutheran family but later in life converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Reverend John H. Erickson, dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that Pelikan "likened his path to Orthodoxy to that of a pilot who kept circling the airport, looking for a way to land."

The Yale historian reaped many honors for his scholarly contributions, including more than 40 honorary degrees. In 1983, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Pelikan 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.

Pelikan was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and he also chaired the American Academy of Political and Social Science. In 2004, the Library of Congress chose him for a Kluge Prize in the Human Sciences, sometimes described as a Nobel Prize for the humanities. Pelikan shared the $1 million award with French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. At the age of 80, the historian was chosen by the Annenberg Foundation as scholarly director for the "Institutions of Democracy" project.

As a teenager, Pelikan considered a career as a concert pianist. While he chose, rather, to become a scholar, he continued to perform, playing once with the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

When Pelikan was chosen to give the Jefferson Lecture in 1983, the Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed him about his upcoming talk, which he said would be on a favorite topic: tradition, particularly as it relates to the "mysterious relationship between continuity and change."

"The mystery between the two that I contemplate in my own life, I've projected into a historical process," Pelikan said of his work. He was also fond of quoting from Goethe's "Faust" words he claimed to be his life motto: "What you have received as an inheritance from your fathers, you must possess again in order to make it your own."

Pelikan was buried in Grove Street Cemetery. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Sylvia; his children, Martin, Michael and Miriam; and three grandsons.

Memorial contributions can be made to the St. Vladimir's Jaroslav Pelikan Theological Endowment (which was founded by the Yale historian), St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, 575 Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, NY 10707-1699 or to the Jaroslav Pelikan Publication Fund of the Yale University Press, P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, CT 06520-9040.


PBS news anchor elected as trustee

Ceremony formally marks Rose Center opening

New Peabody hall offering high-tech lessons about Earth and space

Scientists believe that green tea may be key to 'Asian paradox'



New exhibit asks: What did Shakespeare really look like?

Samples from ocean floor at the North Pole yield clues . . .


Arts & Ideas festival adds a dash of New Orleans spice

Art & Architecture Library taking up temporary residence on Crown Street

Forum explores governmental budgetary processes in China

Library events celebrate aviator and author Anne Morrow Lindberg

Making the Grade

Uncovering Ingrained Attitudes About Obesity

Artist's exhibit at Slifka Center will examine complexity of faith

Jaroslav Pelikan, renowned scholar of church history

Event will bring bellringers from near and far to the Yale campus

Gigantic balloon creatures to invade Hall of Dinosaurs

Celebrated performer to teach summer flute institute

Drama production will highlight work by New Haven students

Reading aloud

Campus Notes

Bulletin Home|Visiting on Campus|Calendar of Events|In the News

Bulletin Board|Classified Ads|Search Archives|Deadlines

Bulletin Staff|Public Affairs|News Releases| E-Mail Us|Yale Home