Conference to mark contributions of Divinity School professor and former dean Franklin Gamwell

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

The Divinity School will celebrate the work of Franklin I. Gamwell, the Shailer Mathews Distinguished Service Professor of Religious Ethics, the Philosophy of Religions, and Theology, with a conference on Friday, Feb. 4.

Gamwell, who retired at the end of Autumn Quarter, served as Dean of the Divinity School from 1980-1990, making important contributions to the field of philosophical theology during his tenure.

“I count it a privilege to have been a part of the community of faculty and students at this university and divinity school for many years, and this conference is simply an additional gift,” Gamwell said.

Margaret M. Mitchell, Dean and Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature in the Divinity School, who organized the conference, said of Professor Gamwell: "He was an outstanding dean, a magnificent leader of this faculty, a spokesman for it, and a dignified presence. As an alumnus of this school, he has carried forward the best of his training.”

Gamwell, an ordained Presbyterian minister, studies the intersection of philosophy, Christian theology and political theory. He is an expert on 20th-century religious thinkers Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Alfred North Whitehead. Gamwell’s many publications include The Meaning of Religious Freedom: Modern Politics and the Democratic Resolution and Politics as a Christian Vocation: Faith and Democracy Today. An alumnus of the Divinity School (MA’70, PhD’73), he joined the faculty in 1979.

Mitchell praised not only Gamwell’s leadership as dean, but also his methodical and penetrating scholarship. “He believes the truth claims of the Christian tradition need to be brought in coordination with the best of philosophy, ancient and contemporary, and therefore that muddled thinking is bad thinking.”

At the same time, she said, Gamwell makes an effort to understand rather than pick apart the work of others. “I think of him as an exponent of intellectual civility of the highest order.”

“Franklin Gamwell has made major contributions to contemporary ethical, political, and theological thought,” added David Tracy, the Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies, Theology, and Philosophy of Religion in the Divinity School and the Committee on Social Thought. “He has shown more clearly than any other contemporary thinker the public character of theological affirmation of the Divine Good for ethical and political reflection. His is the strongest argued intellectual challenge to the common misbelief that in the modern world religion is merely private, and the equally unfortunate misbelief of the Christian political right that Christianity (or any other religion) should dominate public discourse.  He has provided a third and persuasive way of thinking about religion in the public realm beyond these blind alleys.”

The conference will open with a lecture by Tracy titled “Franklin Gamwell's Philosophical Theology: The Strength of Reason.” Southern Methodist University Professor Schubert Ogden, PhD’58, will present the afternoon lecture, "The Task of Philosophical Theology: A Restatement.”

Other conference participants include Frank Benzoni, PhD’03, Barbra Barnett, PhD’09, Bill Meyer, PhD’92, and William Wood, PhD’07, all Divinity School alums who worked closely with Gamwell.

Although Gamwell taught his last class as a full-time faculty member last fall, his contributions will continue. “Our emeriti don’t leave us. They remain very active in Divinity School life and the intellectual community,” Mitchell said. “Past, present, and future, Professor Gamwell’s stamp is on this school.”

“The Future of Philosophical Theology: Conversations in Honor of Franklin I. Gamwell” will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the third floor lecture room of Swift Hall. For more information, please visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/conferences/gamwell/index.shtml.