I just heard from Jeff Robbins (via Facebook) that Gabriel Vahanian has passed away.
Gabriel Vahanian is best known for being one of the radial theologians of the 1960s and for his long tenure at Syracuse University. His work after the early 1970s is not as well known in the US as it is in France, but he continued to write and publish. It’s my position that he is largely uncredited for his work in developing the field of religion and literature. His most recent book published in the USA is 2008’s Praise for the Secular.
I have always appreciated his serious work on Tillich, much of which was collected in the book Tillich and the New Religious Paradigm.
I had the chance to meet with him a few times, and he even gave me some criticism of my written work and wrote an interesting critique of a worship service that he attended. He was present at my church a few times, and I will never forget the one time I caught him clapping his hands to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
He told me not too long ago that the first public lecture that he ever gave was at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
When philosopher Charles Courtney retired, he told a bizarre story that he said was part of the “untold history” of Drew Theological School, that Vahanian came to campus and interviewed for a job, and in the middle of interviewing for the job, himself offered jobs to the faculty at Drew to leave Drew and come to Syracuse. This initiated what was later something of a schism of the faculty, if I remember correctly, between acceptance of radical theology and the traditional Methodism that was represented by some new administrators at Drew. Gabriel recounted the story to me a few years later, and it was fascinating to hear what the backrooms of theological schools were like in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Our best thoughts to Gabriel’s family, especially Jeff and Noelle, friends of many of us on this blog.