About the NAPTS: History of the North American Paul Tillich Society

This first appeared in the Newsletter of the NAPTS, Vol. 26, 1 (Winter 1999). It was the banquet address at the Society's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, 20 Nov. 1998. It has also appeared as an appendix to John Carey's book, Paulus Then and Now: A Study of Paul Tillich's Theological World and the Continual Relevance of His Work. (Mercer Press 2002).

Whence and Whither: a history of the North American Paul Tillich Society
by John Carey

Although I met Paul Tillich in 1955 at Union Theological Seminary in New York and hosted him when he lectured at Florida State University in 1962, I was not a formal student of his, nor was I one of those who served as his assistants. In previous years we have invited people to speak at our banquet who either worked with Paulus or knew him personally. Like many others, I have learned much from the banquet reflections of Marion Pauck, John Dillenberger, James Luther Adams, Krister Stendahl, Durwood Foster, Tom Driver, and Langdon Gilkey. All these "eyewitnesses" have enriched our sense of Tillich's scholarly work, his habits and life patterns, and his relationship with colleagues. My own modest contribution to Tillich scholarship, however, is related much more to the founding of the North American Paul Tillich Society (NAPTS) and in helping to get our publication series started with Mercer University Press.

In my remarks I want to do four things: (1) comment on what went into the first consultation on Tillich Studies in 1974, and on the formation of the Society in 1975; (2) share some reflections on the evolution of the Society; (3) include a few recollections of my times with Tillich when he came to give a lecture at Florida State University in 1962; and (4) comment on three ways Tillich has impacted on my entire professional career.

Let me begin by recounting what went into the calling of the first consultation on Tillich studies in 1974. From 1972 to 1978, when I was chair of the Religion Department at Florida State University, the national office of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) was also at Florida State. John Priest and Bob Spivey served as executive directors of the AAR during that period. Although in some ways this office was semi-independent from the work of our department, all of us there knew what was going on in the planning of the AAR activities, and we were briefed regularly about the shaping of the AAR program.

It dawned on me one day in early 1974, that in spite of Tillich's wide influence there had never been special consultation on the status of Tillich studies. I discussed this with John Priest, my colleague who was serving as executive director of the AAR at that time, and he agreed it would be timely to include such a consultation on the program. As I remember, we did not have to get approval for this from a national committee of thirty-five; Priest just said, "It's a good idea and let's do it." I told him I would be responsible for planning the consultation. I got in touch with James Luther Adams to get his advice and counsel about how to use that time profitably. He suggested I contact the Deutsche Paul-Tillich-Gesellschaft to include, if possible, a report on European Tillich scholarship. He also gave me the names of a number of people he had been in touch with (many being former students of his) who he thought would be interested in attending a consultation on Tillich studies.

About seventy-five people attended that first consultation, which was held in one three-hour block of time at the Washington Hilton. It was clear, after some group discussion, that there was an interest in creating a more formal structure for Tillich scholarship. It was agreed that a steering committee should draft a constitution and bylaws, and we would consider those at the 1975 AAR meeting in Chicago. Jack Boozer of Emory, Bob Scharleman (then at the University of Iowa), Peter John, and I constituted a committee for the preparation of the constitution and bylaws.

The first consultation included, among other things, a major address by James Luther Adams; a report on the history and work of the German Tillich society; a report on recent dissertations in Tillich studies; several papers presented as works in progress; and a business meeting. The consultation helped Tillich scholars meet each other, and we developed a mailing list of people who were present at the consultation for future newsletters related to Tillich scholarship. (As I recall there was some revival of interest of Tillich and his work sparked by the publication in 1973 of Hannah Tillich's book, From Time to Time.) We also agreed that we should undertake the task of publishing essays of current Tillich scholarship.About 100 people attended the organizational meeting of the society in Chicago in 1975. For that meeting, I prepared a small book entitled Tillich Studies: 1975, which included contributions from John Dourley from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, Roy Morrison from Wesley Theological Seminary, Jim Fisher from Bentley College in Massachusetts, Walter Bense from University of Wisconsin in OshKosh, Ronald Stone from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, John Lounibos from the Domican College of Blauvelt, New York, Paul Wiebe of Witchita State University, and H. Fred Reisz, Jr. (then at Wittenburg University in Springfield, Ohio). That collection of essays gave those who attended the founding meeting a sense of the range and scope of interpretative Tillich Scholarship.The fact that the headquarters of the AAR was located at Florida State likewise helped us in this organizational meeting. The long-awaited and much-talked-about Pauck volume on Tillich had just been published, and I was able to persuade John Priest that Wilhelm Pauck would be a good plenary speaker for one of the AAR evening sessions. That in fact was worked out, and Pauck was invited. A crowd of somewhere between 800 to 1,000 heard Paulk reflect about Tillich and his experiences with him. That plenary session supplemented well the interest in Tillich that the founding of our society created. It was at the Chicago meeting that we approved a constitution and bylaws, and endorsed our present structure of officers and board of directors for the Society.Active and influential in those early deliberations were Bob Scharle-mann, Guy Hammond of Virginia Tech, Ray Bulman of St. John's University in New York City, Victor Nuovo of Middlebury College, Jack Boozer of Emory, Fred Reisz, Jr., Ron Stone of Pittsburg Theological Seminary, Mary Ann Stenger of Louisville, Arnold Wettstein of Rollins College, Tom O'Meara of Notre Dame and Peter John. We began the process of preparing and circulating a newsletter, which was the responsibility of the secretary/treasurer. I served as the first president, Victor Nuovo was the first vice-president, and Peter H. John was the first secretary/treasurer.

(Old-time Tillich scholars will recall that Peter H. John was a New England United Methodist pastor. Peter John was well known as the one who followed Tillich to most of his speaking engagements, and he recorded many of Tillich's speeches in shorthand. He was really Tillich's Boswell! It was from his original shorthand notes on Tillich's spring 1953 course on the "History of Christian Thought" at Union Theological Seminary in New York that we have the manuscript that was edited and revised to become A History of Christian Thought. I have lost touch with Peter John, but in the early days of the Society he was something of a legend for his reputation as one who preserved so many of Tillich's lectures. Tillich, by the way, did not particularly appreciate what Peter John was doing, but Peter nevertheless persisted in this task.)