Robert Detweiler, former director of the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA) and professor emeritus in both the ILA and Candler School of Theology, died on Aug. 31 in his home on St. Simons Island after a series of strokes. He was 76 years old.
“He communicated a sense of empowerment to students and coworkers alike, and conveyed a sense of playful seriousness, or serious play, that represents the best of what it means to read, write, think, teach, debate and live in the world of deep thought,” wrote College Dean Robert Paul in an e-mail to the Wheel
. “He was a truly loving and lovable person.”
Robert Detweiler was born in Souderton, Pa., and was raised as a Mennonite. He earned a divinity degree from Goshen College and spent six years in Germany doing missionary work to assist in the post-war rebuilding of the country.
Detweiler taught comparative literature and served as director of the ILA from 1974 to 1982. He was also director of the institute’s graduate studies program from 1987 to 1989. The ILA is Emory’s center for comparative and interdisciplinary graduate studies across the social sciences and humanities. He was forced to retire after a serious stroke in the mid-1990s.
The author or editor of nine books, he was in the process of writing another despite his weakened physical condition. He was recently awarded an Alfred B. Heilbrun Jr. Distinguished Emeritus Fellowship from Emory for work on his new book, Falling to Nil
He also served as president of the American Academy of Religion, an association of teachers and researchers who promote the study of religion.
“A lot of academic life is starch and stuffy and formal, and he did his best to get rid of that. He was an intellectual and well-read person, but he had an incredible sense of humor and fun,” said Walter Reed, director of the ILA. “We will miss his sense of shared scholarship and enjoyment. For him, teaching was not only important, but he made it a hell of a lot of fun.”
A memorial service was held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Emory University’s Cannon Chapel. The body was cremated. Cremation Society of the South is in charge of arrangements. Detweiler is survived by his wife, Gertrude Detweiler; daughter, Bettina Detweiler of Atlanta; son, Dirk Detweiler of Aspen, Colo.; and four grandchildren.
— Contact Prisca Pointdujour