William A. Christian, Senior
Retired Yale University Professor William A. Christian, Sr. died on Saturday, August 9, at his home in Hamden, Connecticut. He was 92 years old.
A specialist in the philosophy of religion, he wrote several important books, including “Doctrines of Religious Communities: A Philosophical Study,” which was written when he was in his 80s. For many years he anchored the teaching of religious studies at Yale College.
William Christian was born on November 1, 1905 in Mobile, Alabama, the son of William A. Christian and Edith Murray Dyche. He was educated at Davidson College, AB, 1927 and Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, BD, 1930, and did graduate work at the University of Edinburgh, Oxford, and Chicago Theological Seminary before coming to Yale to earn his Ph.D. in 1942. His first teaching position was at Smith College, where he taught from 1937-1951.
Appointed to the Yale faculty as an associate professor in 1951, Professor Christian became a full professor in 1962 and was named the John A. Hoober Professor of Religious Studies in 1971. On his retirement in 1974, colleagues from Yale and other institutions in the United States, Canada, and England held a symposium in his honor – one of the highest tributes that scholars can pay to a colleague.
“What distinguished William Christian was a most conscientious integrity in his personal life as well as in his scholarly work,” says Louis Dupre, T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of Religious Studies at Yale. “Having known him well for almost a quarter of a century, I have never heard him make an inconsiderate judgment. The same honesty transpires in his three major works about the philosophy of religion.
“With him disappears a scholar endowed with the high intellectual and moral virtues we tend to expect from the scholar, but which few among us academicians can pride ourselves of actually possessing,” says Professor Dupre.
“He was an incisive and careful scholar, and a patient and dedicated teacher,” says John Reeder, professor of religious studies at Brown University, who studied under Professor Christian in the 1960s. “He influenced several generations of Yale graduate students. His work provided a standard of excellence for them and for others in the field.”
“William Christian published influential and highly regarded books on the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead and in the critical philosophy of religion,” says Gene Outka, Dwight Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics at Yale. “Known for the precision and concision of his thought and prose style, Christian examined the literatures of major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and explored the logic of religious discourse and the distinctive features of religious doctrines. In his teaching and personal manner, no less than in his writings, he combined seriousness, rigor, and grace. His colleagues and students respected and loved him.”
Professor Christian authored several major works of religious philosophy and many scholarly articles. His books include “An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics” and “Meaning and Truth in Religion.”
He is survived by a sister, Edith Christian Powell of Austin, Texas; daughters Louise W. Christian of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, and Edith C. Minear of Amherst, Massachusetts; son William A. Christian, Jr. of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain; and five grandchildren. His wife, Rena Grubb, predeceased him in 1985.
A memorial service will be held at Spring Glen Church, 20 Glen Parkway, Hamden, on Sunday, August 17, at 4 p.m.