By DONNA URSCHEL
Jaroslav Pelikan, a renowned historian of Christian traditions and recipient of the Library's John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences in 2004, died of lung cancer on May 13 at his home in Hamden, Conn.
Pelikan was the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, where he served on the faculty from 1962 to 1996 and was dean of the graduate school from 1973 to 1978.
He shared the Kluge Prize, which carried a $1 million award, with philosopher Paul Ricoeur of Paris, France. In announcing the award two years ago, Billington said, "Jaroslav Pelikan is a historian who deals with the whole of the Christian tradition, from the ancient Near East to the present. He began his deep scholarship on Luther, having been brought up in a Lutheran household, and he has moved over time to consider the whole history of church doctrine, both through the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is concerned with the history and practice of worship in its doctrinal and creedal forms over two millennia."
Born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, Pelikan was educated at Concordia Junior College and subsequently earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary and a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Pelikan wrote more than 30 books, including the five-volume "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine" (1971-89); "Jesus Through the Centuries" (1985); "Christianity and Classical Culture" (1995); "Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture" (1996); and "Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition" (2003).
He is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Thomas Jefferson Medal of the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a teacher, Pelikan had a larger-than-life reputation, relating well to both specialized academic and general audiences. His mastery of so much primary literature enabled him to synthesize and interpret lengthy periods of intellectual history. One of his former students said: "He teaches in a way that makes the listener feel intelligent; one feels that one is fully understanding (or perhaps discovering for oneself) the intricacies of the argument."
His lectures were immensely popular at Yale, and his Gifford Lectures, published in 1993 under the title of "Christianity and Classical Culture," are a cornerstone of his vast contributions.
Pelikan was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994-97), founding chairman for the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress (1980-83; 1988-94) and chairman of the board of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. He was a scholar at the Library's Kluge Center for one year, holding the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North. At the age of 80, he accepted the position of scholarly director for the "Institutions of Democracy Project" at the Annenberg Foundation.
Pelikan is survived by his wife of 60 years, Sylvia Burica Pelikan; son Michael P., of State College, Pa.; son Martin J., of Northfield, Minn.; daughter Miriam Ruth Pelikan Pittenger, of Hanover, Ind.; and three grandchildren.
Donna Urschel is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.