The media is chattering today about the death of William Buckley. Since he came to public consciousness with God and Man at Yale, and pronounced on religious issues from his conservative Catholic perspective, perhaps this blog should comment since he is a presence in American religion. On the other hand, it always seemed to me he wasted his talent with too much writing about trivia and jousting with opponents using pseudo-erudition as his weapon, not to mention his staunch opposition to every single advance in civil rights legislation (this is not altogether a political commentary, by the way; I feel much the same when I see John Updike's overly precious essays about subjects of little note in the New Yorker).
Much more significant, to me, is the passing of the historian George Fredrickson, who most certainly didn't waste his time on trivial pursuits; one of his former students gives him an affectionately honest remembrance here.
Since I just this afternoon blogged about my use of Fredrickson's concept of romantic racialism to think about the Civil War and American Culture, reading of his death just a few minutes after that blog entry struck me forcibly. Along with Leon Litwack and Lawrence Levine (Levine passed last year), Fredrickson was a major intellectual influence, even though I never met or spoke with him, and even though he was not a religious historian, and even though he wrote some things on religion (for the New York Review of Books) that reeked of coastal elite snobbery. But no matter -- the body of his work is essential to anyone dealing with vexed questions of the history of religion and race in the U.S. (and elsewhere, esp. South Africa -- he was a consummate comparative historian), so I note his passing with a feeling of thanks for what he gave me; and I wish I could/would have told him that while he was alive. Fortunately, students of his, including James Campbell, author of the magnificient work Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa, carry on his legacy of comparative race history.