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Langdon Gilkey dies


The eminent Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey died on November 19, 2004, at the age of 85, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Born in Chicago in 1919, where his father was a liberal Baptist minister, Gilkey studied at Harvard University before traveling to China to teach English. He was captured and interned by the Japanese until the end of World War II, which he described in his memoir Shantung Compound (1966). After his release, he moved to New York and studied theology with Reinhold Niebuhr, graduating with a doctorate in religion from Columbia University. After teaching at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, he joined the University of Chicago Divinity School faculty in 1963, where he taught (as the Shailer Mathews Professor of Theology since 1977) until his retirement in 1989.

Gilkey testified for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas, the case that challenged the constitutionality of Arkansas's "Balanced treatment for creation-science and evolution-science act" of 1981. In his account of his experiences, Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (1985), he explained his antipathy to the law: "I came to the conclusion that this law and ones similar to it are ... in fact dangerous to the health of our society; and that through its wide enactment it would represent a disaster to our common life, especially our religious life. ... This law, I was convinced -- and this was my subsequent argument -- would serve to establish a particular form of the Christian religion in the teaching program of the public schools; therefore, it presented a grave threat to the free religious life of our country."

(Obituary in the Washington Post)