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Jaroslav Pelikan, 1923-2006

Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, 82, died May 13 in Hamden, Conn. The son of a Lutheran pastor from Slovakia, Pelikan graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod institution, in 1946.

He was Lutheran until he joined the Orthodox Church in America in 1998.

His career included professorships at Valparaiso [Ind.] University, Concordia Seminary, the University of Chicago, and Yale University, New Haven, Conn. He held lectureships at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Princeton [N.J.] University; and Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C., among others.

The theologian authored nearly 40 books, including From Luther to Kierkegaard, Fools for Christ and The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, a five-volume series. He also served as editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica, Luther’s Works and The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought.

Over the years, he served as president of various organizations, including the International Congress of Luther Research, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Society of Church History.

Pelikan was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by former President Bill Clinton and was the founding chair of the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress. With French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, he won the library’s $1 million Kluge Prize in the Human Sciences for 2004.

When he joined the Orthodox Church in America in 1998, Pelikan wrote to his former ELCA congregation, Bethesda Lutheran in New Haven, that the move was a “logical culmination of a development in my mind and spirit that has been going on for decades.”


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