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Kaufman, Gordon Dester

The Newton Kansan

Gordon Dester Kaufman


Gordon Dester Kaufman, Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School, died on July 22, 2011, at age 86.

A member of the faculty of divinity since 1963, Kaufman was a renowned liberal theologian whose research, writing and teachings had a profound influence on constructive and systematic theology.

Kaufman was born on June 22, 1925, in Newton. He earned a bachelor of arts from Bethel College in 1947. He went on to earn a master of arts in sociology from Northwestern University in 1948, a BD from Yale Divinity School in 1951, and a doctorate in philosophical theology from Yale University in 1955, with a dissertation titled "The Problem of Relativism and the Possibility of Metaphysics."

He later was awarded an honorary master of arts from Harvard in 1963, an LHD from Bethel College in 1973, and an LHD from Carleton College in 2007. Kaufman was ordained in 1953 in the General Conference Mennonite Church. He also served on the Bethel College Board of Directors from 1964 to 1976.

Kaufman served terms as president of the New England Region of the American Academy of Religion (1979-80), and later of the entire AAR (1981-82). He served a term as president of the American Theological Society (1979-80). He also was a member of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, and an active and longtime member of the Boston Theological Society.

He completed postdoctoral fellowships as a Fulbright Fellow in Tübingen, Germany, 1961-62; a Guggenheim Fellow in Oxford, England, 1969-70; an Association of Theological Schools Fellow in Bangalore, India, 1976-77; a Japan Foundation Fellow in Kyoto, Japan, in the fall of 1983; and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, 1990-91.

Before coming to Harvard as professor of theology in 1963, Kaufman taught at Vanderbilt University as an associate professor of theology from 1958 to 1963 and at Pomona College as assistant professor of religion from 1953 to 1958. He taught and lectured widely, not only within the United States, but also internationally, holding numerous visiting professorships and lectureships.

After more than three decades as a member of the faculty of divinity, Kaufman retired from Harvard Divinity School in 1995, but continued to mentor students and to teach part time, as research professor, until his last course in 2009.

A prolific writer, Kaufman amassed an extensive bibliography of books, articles and reviews. Among his many published works, he reimagined religious concepts and constructs in ways he believed would be more constructive in the modern world.

A resident of Cambridge, Kaufman is survived by four children, David, Gretchen, Anne and Edmund Kaufman; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Dorothy Wedel, his wife since June 11, 1947, died in 1998.

A public memorial service is being planned for the fall. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made "in memory of Gordon D. Kaufman" to the Mennonite Central Committee, P.O. Box 500, Akron, PA 17501; or to Bethel College, Development Office, 300 E. 27th St., North Newton, KS 67117.

Owner/SourceHarvey County Genealogical Society
Date2 Aug 2011
Linked toGordon Dester Kaufman

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