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At its meeting Dec. 6, the faculty adopted the following memorial resolutions for William M. Dobriner, Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sociology, who died Oct. 8, and Earl A. Pope, Helen H.P. Manson Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, who died Oct. 18.

William M. Dobriner, courtesy of Digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Lafayette Archives

William M. Dobriner, courtesy of Digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Lafayette Archives

William Mann Dobriner died in Nazareth, Pa., on Oct. 8, 2011. He was appointed as Dana Professor of Sociology in 1971—only the second Dana Professor at Lafayette up to then—when he was hired as the first head of the newly created Anthropology & Sociology Department in 1971.

Born in 1922 in Massachusetts, Bill spent most of his childhood years in Queens, N.Y., at that time almost a suburb of the great city of which it is an integral part. After graduating from the recently opened Bayside High School in Queens, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and served in the public relations department while stationed in Italy during World War II.

After mustering out of the Air Force in 1945, Bill enrolled in Queens College, near his parents’ home. During his freshman year he met his future wife, Eileen Phypers. They were married five years later, in 1950. In the interim, Bill transferred to Hofstra University, on Long Island, from which he graduated in 1948. Bill then began graduate studies at Columbia University, from which he earned a masters degree, and finally a Ph.D. in sociology in 1956. He began teaching at Hofstra while working on his degrees at Columbia, and remained at his alma mater until coming to Lafayette in 1971.

By the time he was hired here at Lafayette, Bill had made his mark academically as an expert on suburban America by publishing Class in Suburbia in 1963. It remains one of the essential books on the sociology of American suburbs. Indeed, the final chapter in Bill’s book, “The Natural History of a Reluctant Suburb,” was so well-written and incisive in its analysis of suburban culture and politics that it has been reprinted in dozens of anthologies. Bill also published a successful textbook, Social Structures and Systems, in 1969, a book he used in teaching his introduction to sociology courses.

As the first head of the Anthropology & Sociology Department, Bill was responsible for building it almost from scratch. It had been a new program with an anthropologist and a sociologist teaching in it before Bill was hired. Tom Norton, a much beloved professor of sociology was the sociologist already on board. Under Bill’s guidance Dan Bauer was hired in 1972, and Howard Schneiderman in 1973. Dan was Bill’s successor as department head, and Howard followed him in that position. Thus, Bill and his first two hires collectively headed the Anthropology & Sociology Department for its first 38 years. Another of the Dobriner hires, Susan Niles, is now clerk of the faculty.

Always an exemplary writer, Bill was also an excellent teacher, who often said that teaching was his first love. Bill was very popular with both students and his colleagues, as evidenced by a packed house when he was the Jones Faculty Lecturer in 1974. His Jones Lecture on “Freedom and Authority” was later published as an essay in the Yale Review.

Bill was not a very political figure on the Lafayette campus, but he made his presence felt here in the classroom, and on a host of faculty committees. He was an omnipresent runner at Lafayette, and he seemingly haunted the running track near Metzgar Fields, where he could be found almost daily running with his dog, Sally. Bill was also a very fine woodworker, and he made a clock for the Anthropology & Sociology Department office which still runs, and occupies a place of honor for us.

Bill retired from Lafayette in 1988. During his last year as an active member of the faculty here, Bill assumed the pen name Frank Kenmore, and began writing a series of four rough and ready novels about the adventures of an Indiana Jones type of academic, Colin Smallpiece. The first of these, The Jasmine Sloop, actually makes direct mention of Lafayette College, and sometimes ranges from Centre Square in Easton to places on campus, such as Pardee Hall, and the President’s Office in Markle Hall. Bill’s colleagues at Lafayette often found themselves popping up in these novels, along with his beloved dog, Sally. Indeed, Bill’s second career as a successful adventure novelist was once highlighted in a colorful article in the TIAA newsletter.

Bill’s wife, Eileen died a few years ago, and his last trip to campus was for a memorial service in her honor. His two daughters, Gail Dobriner Wertheim [’76], and Jill Dobriner [’79], both graduated from Lafayette, as did his son-in-law, Glenn Wertheim [’76]. His son, Scott Dobriner, also survives him.

Mr. President, on behalf of the committee, I move that this memorial be filed with the minutes of this meeting and that copies of it be sent to Gail Dobriner Wertheim, Jill Dobriner, and Scott Dobriner.

Dan F. Bauer, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Sociology
David Shulman
, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology
Howard Schneiderman
, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology

* * * * *

Earl A. Pope, courtesy of Digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Lafayette Archives

Earl A. Pope, courtesy of Digitized Historical Photograph Collection, Lafayette Archives

Born in Tulca, Romania, on Aug. 18, 1920, Earl A. Pope immigrated to the United States with his parents, celebrating his third birthday aboard the ship on the way over. After growing up in Akron, Ohio, he attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill., earning an A.B. in religion and a M.A. in theology. He proceeded to Yale University Divinity School, where he took a M.Div. degree in history of Christianity. While at Yale, in 1948, he met Miriam (Mim) Nilsen, at Cromwell, Conn.; they were married on Sept. 9, 1950.

For the next decade, Pope was the minister of churches in Floral Park, N.Y. (1950-53), and in Cranston, R.I. (1954-57), and Rumford, R.I. (1957-60). While serving at the Rumford church, he also served for two years as a teaching fellow at Brown University, where he also completed his education with a Ph.D. in religious studies and American history.

In 1960, Pope joined the faculty of Lafayette College, where he taught in the Department of Religion for the next 30 years. While rising through the ranks, and eventually being named the Helen H.P. Manson Professor of Bible, he served as secretary, vice-chair, and chair of the Lafayette Chapter of the American Association of University Professors; headed the Department of Religion (1977-85); served as Dean of Studies (1970-72); and did tours of duty on numerous important faculty committees, often chairing them: Academic Council; Curriculum Committee; Appointments, Promotions, and Dismissals Committee, among others.

Because the Religion Department was very small, Pope, like its other members, taught on a wide range of subjects. His courses in his areas of specialization included: Christian Scriptures, History of Religion in America, Contemporary Religious Issues, Contemporary Religious Movements, Contemporary Protestant Dialogue, Religion in Eastern Europe, Religious Situation in the Soviet Union, and Religion in a Post-Communist World. He also taught Key Topics in Christian Thought, Christianity and Judaism, Jewish-Christian Dialogue and the Holocaust, and the department’s main introductory course, Basic Types of Religion, covering Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

Over the years, Pope became a tireless pioneering promoter of global studies avant la lettre at Lafayette. An integral member of the Russian/East European Studies Program, he co-directed trips of Lafayette students to Russia and Romania, and he and Mim also hosted several students from Moldova in their home on different occasions. He cultivated valuable contacts with church leaders all over Eastern Europe, and on one occasion even took some students to an audience with the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Ever effective in the classroom and popular with students, Pope was honored with Lafayette’s Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty award for superior teaching (1970) and the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback award for distinguished teaching and contributions to the campus community (1980).

Pope’s numerous scholarly interests ranged from church history and dogma to biblical studies and ecumenical issues of partnership, understanding, and justice. He began as a specialist in American religious history, publishing an important book on New England Calvinism and the Disruption of the Presbyterian Church (1987). However, he also became interested in writing on Christian/Marxist dialogue. From the early 1970s on, his scholarly attention was increasingly drawn to the religious life in Communist-dominated Eastern Europe, and he came to be widely recognized as a ground-breaking authority on that subject.

Pope was a true homme engagé, becoming a leader within national and international organizations dedicated to the culture and politics of Romania. He traveled often and widely there, and in 1977-78 he was an International and Research Exchanges Board Award recipient and a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Scholar in Romania. Later he was awarded the Romanian Patriarchal Cross of Honor for his ecumenical contributions, and in 1980 he coordinated a conference on Romanian studies at Lafayette.

Pope did not miss a beat after he became the last Lafayette faculty member to be required under the old rules to retire at age seventy, in 1990. As a Senior Fulbright Professor at the University of Bucharest in 1992-94, Pope participated in numerous religious and educational organizations and events, and also organized a highly successful seminar entitled “Encounter of Religions in the Black Sea Area” at the Black Sea University, Mangalia, Romania. The seminars, which continued for years afterwards, cultivated interreligious cooperation and tolerance in a region traditionally beset by religious tensions and conflicts. The program drew participants representing various Christian churches and denominations, as well as Jews and Muslims, from 12 different nations.

In 1987-89 Pope served as president of the Society of Romanian Studies, and in 1989 he was elected to the executive committee of Christians Associated for Relations with Eastern Europe. He was a consultant to the International Academy on Religious Freedom, which conducted its first conference in Romania. He also was a member of the Fulbright Selection Committee, an international observer at Romania’s 1992 presidential and parliamentary elections, and a trustee of the Albert Schweitzer Award for Humanitarians, an award established to advance humanitarianism in the U.S. through recognition of extraordinary achievement.

In 1997, Pope was led by his own humanitarian impulse to confront Dr. Emil Constantinescu, the then-president of Romania. In a powerful five-page letter to Constantinescu, dated May 31 that year, Pope expressed his profound disappointment over a reported “sudden change in the religious policy” by the Ministry of Cults in Romania, accompanied by recent incidents of violent persecution against religious minorities in the country, including Baptists. Pope wrote, “It has always been my conviction that religious freedom is a fundamental, indeed, sacred, human right and an integral component of an open, democratic society.” He called for a public apology and assurances that such discrimination and violence would not be tolerated, and he warned Constantinescu that continued violations of religious rights in Romania could have negative repercussions upon the otherwise improving relations between Romania and the United States, whose current president and vice president at the time—Clinton and Gore—both happened to be Baptists. Pope’s letter demonstrably hit its mark. Within months, Constantinescu and the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea assured a delegation of Baptist leaders of their commitment to religious freedom, and an apology was extended for the discriminatory incidents.

Another legacy of Pope’s Eastern European travels and sojourns is the fascinating and diverse array of material he amassed not only in English but in Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, and other languages of the region. Beginning in the 1990s, he donated large quantities of material to the Princeton Theological Seminary Library. The Pope Collection there consists of hundreds of books and pamphlets documenting religion and culture in Eastern Europe.

It was, however, upon his hundreds of Lafayette students and colleagues that Earl Pope left his most indelible imprint. The news of his retirement in spring 1990 prompted one senior student—Kevin Scott Koplin ’91, who, largely thanks to Earl, was spending that year in England as Berman Scholar to the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew Studies—to write to the College’s president, pleading for him to find a way to rehire Earl: “What [Professor Pope’s] dossier would fail to identify,” wrote Koplin, “are the attributes that made [him] such a well respected member of the Lafayette Community: dedication, sincerity, honesty, intelligence, innovation, and tenacity. Exactly what you would expect from one of the best professor[s] Lafayette has ever had.”

What Pope meant to this faculty is captured by the words of two of his much younger former colleagues responding to the news of his death on Oct. 18 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at age 91. Said one (Prof. Patricia Donahue): “Earl Pope was a peach, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” Said the other (Prof. Joshua Miller): “He was a lion of the Lafayette faculty. He had a courtly, distinctive way of talking, but within his graciousness he said powerful things.”

No one who knew Earl Pope will forget his irrepressible smile, cheerful eyes, and his unfailingly—and arrestingly—upbeat mode of salutation, whether in easy or tough times, rain or shine: “How are you? Good to see you!

Mr. President, on behalf of the committee, I move that this memorial be filed with the minutes of this meeting and that copies of it be sent to his wife, two daughters, and several other family members whose names and addresses are on a list appended to this resolution.

Robert L. Cohn, Philip and Muriel Berman Chair of Jewish Studies
Robin Rinehart
, Professor of Religious Studies
Eric Ziolkowski
, Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies

Categorized in: Faculty and Staff, News and Features


  1. Rev. W. Donald Beaudreault says:

    I shall always remember that special day in 1964 when Dr. Pope was handing back our exam books that he had graded, and when he came to me, those incredible shining eyes of his and that widest of grins told me that either I had done well – or that I had done poorly and he was only trying to cheer me up. Then he said it: “Mr. Beaudreault, I would have given you a 100 on the exam, but only God is perfect!” And when I looked down at the grade on my exam it was a 99! Okay, I am not God, but I did go on to become a minister – and Dr. Pope had much to do with inspiring me in that quest. I mourn his loss but celebrate all the good he did for so many people in bringing religion to center-stage in a world that sorely needs to believe in deeper meaning and purpose to existence.

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  3. John Rehm says:

    I never had a class with Dr. Pope, but I knew that he was the Religion Department Chairman. I enjoyed several religion courses, and regarded him highly if indirectly. A good and gracious man.

  4. The Rev. Dr. Guy E. McCombs '72 says:

    Dr. Pope was one of the major influences upon me in my Lafayette days, and a strong and trusted advisor on religious, church and ecumenical matters in the subsequent years. I especially hold precious his class on Religion in North America…his candor and passion, as well as the night that he and his wife hosted us in their home. I mourn his passing, but I applaud his life and witness. My deepest sympathy to Dr. Pope’s family and close friends.

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