CONTACT: Barbara Palmer, News Service (650) 724-6184;
Former Religious Studies Professor Robert McAfee Brown Dead at 81
Robert McAfee Brown, former Stanford professor of religious studies
and a renowned educator, author and activist, died Tuesday at age 81.
Brown died in a nursing home near his Heath, Mass., summer home, from
complications following a broken hip.
A Palo Alto resident, Brown taught at Stanford between 1962 and 1976
and became an international leader in civil rights, ecumenical and social
the 20th century, in the religious quest for meaning and redemption,
few have been his peers," said Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel.
Weisel met Brown three decades ago when Weisel lectured at Stanford
and the two shared an instant bond, Weisel said. "The way he listened
and the way he spoke, the way he shared and the way he searched, he
was an empowering and inspiring figure."
While at Stanford, Brown campaigned against U.S. involvement in the
Vietnam War and was a co-founder of the group Clergy and Laity Concerned
About Vietnam. As a leader of the ecumenical movement, he served as
an official Protestant observer at the second session of Vatican II
in 1963 and 1964, representing the World Alliance of Presbyterian and
Reformed Churches. In 1961, before joining the Stanford faculty, Brown
was jailed after participating as a freedom rider in Florida.
Brown "impressed me as one of the few American theologians who
made the faith both reasonable and exciting intellectually, but also
relevant to society and its needs in the most direct and concrete ways,"
said Ernlé Young, co-director and co-founder of the Stanford
University Center for Biomedical Ethics and professor of medicine. Young
came to Stanford in 1974 after being banned for anti-apartheid activities
in his native South Africa.
Young said he first considered the theologian a mentor and role model
after reading Browns work. Brown was the author of 29 books, ranging
from An American Dialog: A Protestant Looks at Catholicism and a Catholic
Looks at Protestantism, which he co-authored with Gustave Weigel in
1960, to Gustavo Gutierrez: an Introduction to Liberation Theology,
published in 1990.
Later, "as a friend and colleague, Bobs simplicity, directness,
integrity intellectual force and courage made and indelible impression
Brown, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born on May 28, 1920
in Carthage, Ill. He earned a bachelors degree from Amherst College
in 1943 and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1944. Brown earned
a bachelor of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New
York in 1945 and served as a Navy chaplain from 1945-1946. The recipient
of a Fulbright grant, Brown studied at Oxford before completing a doctorate
degree in the philosophy of religion at Columbia University in 1951.
That year, Brown became the head of the Department of Religion at Macalester
College in St. Paul, Minn. In 1953, he joined the faculty of Union Theological
Seminary. He came to Stanford in 1962.
"My reasons for moving from seminary teaching to university teaching
is an attempt, if possible, to build some bridges between the world
of theology and the world of modern man. I think the first task of the
theologian on the university campus is to listen, so that he will not
overconfidently prescribe answers to questions nobody is asking,"
Brown wrote in 1964.
During his 14-year tenure, Browns classes on religion and ethics
in relation to contemporary life and literature were some of the most
popular on campus.
"Brown was an immensely popular teacher and quite articulate in
his opposition to the Vietnam War," political science Professor
David Abernethy said. "He was just one of the most articulate people
I ever met. He combined eloquence with a marvelous sense of humor."
Brown left Stanford in 1976 to teach at the Pacific School of Religion
"He had a tremendous influence on his students, some of whom in
turn have become teachers," Weisel said. "His students are
continuing to follow his path. They see religion, not as a fist, but
as an outstretched hand."
Brown is survived by his spouse, Sydney Thomson Brown; three sons, Peter,
of Houston, Mark, of Mountain View, and Tom, of Chesterfield, Mass.;
and a daughter Alison Ehara-Brown, of Richmond, Calif.
The family plans a small, private ceremony and a memorial service later
in the fall, said the Rev. Jeffrey Vamos, associate pastor of First
Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, where Brown was a parish associate.
-By Barbara Palmer-