NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Bethel College Bible and religion professor Duane K. Friesen is the first recipient of the Edmund G. Kaufman Distinguished Chair in Religion. John Sheriff, vice president for academic affairs, announced the inauguration of the Chair and presented Friesen with a commemorative chair at the college's faculty meeting May 11. Endowed by gifts from the late Bethel College president, the Distinguished Chair will be used to fund the salary of a professor in the Bible and religion department. The Kaufman gift completes the funding for the sixth endowed chair or department at Bethel College.
Kaufman, a churchman and educator, was Bethel College president from 1932 to 1952. Through annuities and other investments as well as gifts of houses and farmland, Kaufman created this endowment and supported the college in numerous ways. Also contributing to the gifting were his wives, Hazel (Dester), Anna (Miller Baumgartner) and Edna (Ramseyer). After he died in 1980 at the age of 88, memorial gifts added to the fund.
"Dr. Kaufman had a strong vision for the church and for Bethel College," said Bethel College President E. LaVerne Epp. "He is remembered as a gifted teacher of religion, one who challenged students to think and develop their faith statements. Awarding this Chair in his name is a fitting tribute to his memory."
Friesen's selection as the recipient of the Edmund G. Kaufman Distinguished Chair honors his scholarly achievements and leadership.
"Duane Friesen was chosen to be the first recipient of this distinguished Chair because he is clearly a person who has established himself as a scholar," Sheriff said. "His scholarship has contributed greatly to his teaching and has had a profound influence upon Bethel College."
In 1962 Friesen received a bachelor's degree in English and philosophy from Bethel College. He holds a bachelor of divinity degree from Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and a doctorate in Christian social ethics from Harvard Divinity School. He completed his dissertation on "The Relationship Between Ernst Troeltsch's Theory of Religion and his Typology of Religious Association."
Friesen has taught at Bethel College since 1970. He joined the faculty as an instructor of Bible and religion and also served as co-director of the Bethel Experimental Learning Laboratory (BELL). In 1980 he was granted full professorship. Friesen chaired the Bible and religion department from 1978 until 2003. He was coordinator of the senior-level course Basic Issues of Faith and Life until this year and has served the academic community in numerous ways.
"Duane has also been active beyond campus as a speaker, researcher, writer and contributor in various regional, national and international associations. His last book is probably his greatest contribution to date," Sheriff said.
Friesen authored the book "Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City" (Herald Press, 2000) in which he describes an Anabaptist theology of culture. He also wrote "Christian Peacemaking and International Conflict: A Realist Pacifist Perspective" (Herald Press, 1986) as well as book chapters, articles, reviews, pamphlets and papers.
He has participated in the conversations of the Historic Peace Churches and the dialogue with the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence program. The group statement, drafted in 2001, drew from Friesen's paper, which was included in a book, "Seeking Cultures of Peace: A Peace Church Conversation" (Herald Press and WCC, 2004).
Friesen participated in a five-year project with 23 scholars who developed and wrote 10 principles and practices of just peacemaking, published in the book "Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War" (Pilgrim Press, 2004, 2nd ed.).
Friesen is currently a member of a research team, sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Committee, to create a book-length policy on "New Challenges to Mennonite Peace Theology and the Practice of Peacemaking." He serves on the Peace Committee for Mennonite Central Committee; he is on the board and member of the core faculty of the Great Plains Seminary Education Program and on the Peace and Justice Commission of Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is whether we have both the will and insight to develop worldviews that will foster a just economic system that is at the same time compatible with a healthy ecosystem. Another great challenge is how we will engage religious diversity. It would be a mistake to think we need to water down our convictions or find some vague homogenization out of the diversity of faiths. I am convinced in the truth of the paradox that a deep and authentic commitment to Jesus Christ is simultaneously a solid basis for dialogue, for being open to listening and learning from others.
--Duane K. Friesen, after being named the first recipient of the Edmund G. Kaufman Distinguished Chair in Religion at Bethel College