15 February 2016

G. William Carlson

One of my undergraduate mentors, G. William Carlson, has died at age 72. Here is his obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He taught history and political science at Bethel University for an unprecedented 46 years, and he was one of my instructors in the mid-1970s, when he was still in his early thirties and had not yet earned his PhD. He was not particularly flashy or a dynamic speaker. But the content of his instruction was always worthwhile, and for this reason he had a great impact on his students, whom he was always encouraging to think critically about the things they were reading and experiencing. Among other things I acquired from him a longstanding interest in Russian history and politics, which I myself would eventually teach. I also briefly took on his pacifist convictions and thought I might even be an anabaptist, though I abandoned this path fairly quickly thereafter. What I most remember about him, however – aside from his illegible handwriting! – was the deep care he had for us as students and the way he challenged us to think through the practical implications of our Christian faith. These are qualities that I hope I have carried into my own teaching.

Carlson in 1975
He and I did not end up in exactly the same place either spiritually or intellectually, though we remained brothers in Christ, of course. He was an anabaptist, while I was in the process of returning to the Reformed Christianity of my childhood. But he did succeed in instilling in me a thirst for justice which contributed to shifting my studies from music to political science. Moreover, in recent years he had made the effort to send me his family's annual Christmas letter, along with the latest issue of the Baptist Pietist Clarion, of which he was editor. I am grateful to have known the man and to have benefited from his teaching during the formative years of my youth. May he rest in peace until we meet again at the resurrection.

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