In Memoriam: Julian Norris Hartt

Theologian Julian Norris Hartt, who taught at Yale Divinity School (YDS) and Yale's Department of Religious Studies for three decades, died Nov. 29 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He was 99.

Hartt was the founding chair of Yale's Department of Religious Studies and taught there and at YDS from 1943-1972. When he left Yale for the University of Virginia, he was the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology. At Virginia, he held the William Kenan, Jr. Chair of Religious Studies until he retired in 1981 and was named professor emeritus.

His students included scores of scholars and ministers such as William Sloane Coffin Jr., Ray Hart, William May, Stanley Hauerwas and James Carse.

"Julian was obviously a strong presence at the Divinity School," says Harry B. Adams, the Horace Bushnell Professor Emeritus of Christian Nurture. "I knew him both as a student and as a colleague. He was a lively and engaging teacher who was constantly seeking new language in which to express Christian theology.

"Personally he was at the center of the faculty," continues Adams. "When I came to the faculty, there was no faculty lounge, and so a considerable number of the faculty assembled in Julian's office every day for lunch and lively conversation.

Ethicist William May observed: "As a teacher, Julian Hartt never tried to play the role of father or to supply his students with a sheltering intellectual home. But he gave many of us a sense of calling."

Hartt was born June 13, 1911 in Selby, South Dakota, the son of Albert Hartt, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Laura Beals Hartt. He was educated in the small Dakota towns in which his father was assigned churches. He attended high school in Doland, South Dakota, where he became life-long friends of Hubert H. Humphrey. One example of their closeness was that Hartt gave the grace at the luncheon following the inauguration of Lyndon Johnson and Humphrey. For decades, Hartt regaled students with Humphrey/Hartt stories.

Hartt earned his B.A. from Dakota Wesleyan University in 1932, majoring in philosophy and psychology. During his junior and senior years he served Methodist churches in southeast South Dakota and for two years was a minister in Harrisburg, south of Sioux Falls.

He graduated with honors in 1937 from Garrett Biblical Institute in?Evanston, IL and received a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology in 1940 from Yale. He taught at Berea College for three years before returning to teach at Yale Divinity School in 1943.

Hartt continued to do some teaching after his retirement but devoted most of his time to writing. He is the author of many books and articles, including "A Christian Critique of American Culture," and memoirs published in several volumes by Soundings. Eight of his books have recently been reissued by Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Hartt's brother James and one sister, Helen, predeceased him. His sister Betty Strand (Sagle, Indiana) survives him. His first wife, Neva Beverly, to whom he was married for 50 years, predeceased him. He is survived by three children: Beverly Ann Gouaux (Denton, Texas), Susan L. Hartt (Hamden, Connecticut), and Julian N. Hartt, Jr. (West Hartford, Connecticut); and two grandsons, Brendan J. Hartt (North Haven, Connecticut) and Amos Gouaux (Denton, Texas). He is also survived by his wife, the artist Elinor N. Hartt, currently of Greenfield, Massachusetts, and three stepchildren: Katlin Roberts (New York, New York), Wendy Roberts (Dover, Delaware), Diana Robert (Greenfield, Massachusetts), and three step-grandchildren.

A small memorial service will be held in Greenfield, Massachusetts in the next few weeks. In April or early May a service will be held at the University of Virginia.?? The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions in his name be made to the Yale Divinity School, Dean's Fund, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511 or St. Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, SD 57326

To read tribute to Hartt by David Kelsey, the Luther A. Weigle Professor Emeritus of Theology, click here.