Sarah Ruth Hammond, 1977-2011



17 comments

Note: The following sad news came to me today via Linn Tonstad, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Methodist University, concerning the passing of her friend Sarah Ruth Hammond, a recent PhD. from Yale University who was teaching most recently at William & Mary.

Update: the New York Times religion writer Mark Oppenheimer has posted his memorial tribute on his blog, here. At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Morice-Brubaker reflects on her meeting Sarah as a freshman in college and knowing her as recently as rooming together just a week and a half ago at the AAR.
An official announcement and memorial from the Provost at William & Mary is here.

Sarah Ruth Hammond
by Linn Tonstad

Sarah Ruth Hammond, a brilliant young scholar of American religious history, died this weekend. At the time, she was working as a visiting assistant professor at the College of William & Mary. Sarah received her PhD from Yale’s Religious Studies department in 2010, for a dissertation entitled, “‘God’s Business Men’: Entrepreneurial Evangelicals in Depression and War.” Sarah received numerous fellowships during graduate study, including a Mellon fellowship, a Franke fellowship, and a Lake Fellowship from the Center for the Study of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Sarah received her BA from Yale University in 1999. Her first book was under contract with the University of Chicago Press, and her article, “‘God Is My Partner’: An Evangelical Business Man Confronts Depression and War,” had recently been published in Church History (September 2011). Sarah was 34 years old when she died.

Others will be better qualified than I to assess the loss her death represents for the future of American religious history. I do know that Sarah was one of the smartest and most vivacious people I’ve ever known, and that there is little question that, had she lived, she would have been a central figure in the next generation of American religious historians. I first met Sarah at the orientation for incoming PhD students in religious studies at Yale in the fall of 2003. We quickly became close, and accompanied one another through many of the vagaries of graduate study, romantic entanglements and disentanglements, and other various challenges of spending significant portions of your twenties and thirties training to read and interpret texts rather than people. Sarah loved music, and (remember, we met in 2003) she would bring stacks of CDs over to my apartment and we would spend hours talking while exchanging albums from Steve Earle and Warren Zevon, and obsessing over the excellence of the band Pulp. (We heard Jarvis Cocker play a concert in New York once, at which he did not indulge us with a single song from Pulp days, yet all was wonderful anyway.) Sarah was a passionate runner and an activist for many Democratic and progressive causes, overcoming her natural shyness to canvass door to door and work in phone banks when issues were particularly exigent. Her devotion to excellence at Scrabble was legendary, extending to the point of photographically recording the board after games. Her cats, Gandalf and Thea, assisted greatly in the writing of her dissertation by destroying staplers, knocking over stacks of research, and disappearing at the whisper of a stranger’s entrance.

17 comments:

Janine Giordano at: November 29, 2011 at 4:29 PM said...

I never knew Prof. Hammond, but have appreciated her work for a long time and had always wanted to meet her. I am so sorry for the loss to her friends and family.

caleb at: November 29, 2011 at 4:31 PM said...

This is tragic news. Sarah was a compassionate, gentle soul and an excellent scholar at the very beginning of her career. She will be sorely missed.

Rebecca D. at: November 29, 2011 at 6:34 PM said...

Thank you so much for sharing these memories of Sarah. We overlapped in grad school, and she was one of my go-to readers for new projects. No one read more or more intelligently than Sarah. Her scholarship captures her wisdom and her wit; she always managed to find humor and kookiness in American religious history. Above all, she was a kind, gentle person, and her friendship will be deeply missed.

Paul Harvey at: November 29, 2011 at 7:11 PM said...

Dear blog readers, Mark Oppenheimer, a New York Times religion writer, provides this remembrance as well:

http://ht.ly/7Jhjn

Christopher at: November 29, 2011 at 8:07 PM said...

What a tragic loss. I just became aware several weeks ago that Prof. Hammond was currently teaching at W&M and had planned on making contact with her soon. Thanks for the kind and thoughtful reflection Prof. Tonstad.

Steve Hammond at: November 29, 2011 at 9:51 PM said...

Thank you so much. I am Sarah's father. She was such an amazing person in so many ways.

Tracy Lemos at: November 30, 2011 at 7:29 AM said...

Thank you, Linn. I went to bed thinking about Sarah last night and woke up thinking about her this morning. I wish she could have understood how much she was loved and how much she gave to the world.

Rachel Gordan at: November 30, 2011 at 7:46 AM said...

Sarah and I were in the same freshman humanities program in college. We reconnected through our interest in American religious history. I came to her for advice about grad school and, as usual, she was more than generous in her help and encouragement. She was a giving person who contributed to our field and others more than she realized, through supportive friendships and ideas that she helped nurture. I'm so sad that she is no longer with us.

Mary Hammond at: November 30, 2011 at 8:03 AM said...

Sarah's mom here, through tears. What a gift to read of Sarah's impact on others through the too-brief years of her life. We are having a Celebration of Life for Sarah at the end of December in Oberlin, her hometown since age 2. We hope all her friends will be there who can be. Contact me or Steve for more information.

DEG at: November 30, 2011 at 8:36 AM said...

This is a tragedy. Such a down-to-earth, generous, and funny person -- and top notch scholar. My deepest condolences to her family.

Bill Enright, Director (Lake Institute) at: November 30, 2011 at 9:34 AM said...

We at the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University were both shocked and saddened to learn of Sarah’s untimely death. She was a bright young scholar and we were looking forward with joyful anticipation to the future contributions she would be making to the study of religion and philanthropy. We were honored to have her as a former Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellow. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.

Abby Cooper at: November 30, 2011 at 12:20 PM said...

I just want to take a moment to remember Sarah Hammond as a teacher, a friend—for me, a mentor in the truest sense of the word. Sarah was my TA when I was a masters student at Yale Divinity School. I am now a doctoral candidate at Penn, and it is no exaggeration to say that without Sarah, I wouldn’t be here. Our intellectual exchange began in the classroom, and extended far beyond. She read my work, shared hers, she helped me work through the intractable paradoxes of American religious history, she helped me understand in ways that only Sarah could. I have our email exchanges over the past five years printed out and in a binder. They have become not only the best oral notes ever but also the fuel for my most cherished intellectual commitments.

What was especially remarkable about Sarah for me was that she was so obviously brilliant but it was never about her brilliance. She was the best kind of intellectual—the kind who made me love ideas and problems instead of thinking about being smart. She gave me confidence to focus on the work. Now, as a TA with my own seminars, Sarah is my model, and I am still in awe of Sarah’s abilities (she responded in depth to every one of her student’s written work every week!). And as I research, her advice rings in my ears even now. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking of her as a potential reader.

My heart goes out to her family—she spoke of you often and fondly. We exchanged stories about kids and life as much as scholarship. I imagine you will hear so many people telling you how warm and generous she was, but that doesn’t even begin to describe the half of it. She made me believe that the most impressive people I would ever meet could also be really good people. She was something I still strive to emulate-- a scholar with a beautiful soul. Sarah, I’m going to miss you so much.

Randall Balmer at: November 30, 2011 at 4:18 PM said...

I'm so sad to hear this news. Sarah, in addition to being a brilliant scholar, was a bright and shining light.

May the soul of the departed rest in peace.

Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer at: November 30, 2011 at 4:19 PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angi at: December 2, 2011 at 5:15 PM said...

Steve and Mary, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm keeping you and your friends and family in my thoughts and prayers.

Bob Shuster at: January 4, 2012 at 1:48 PM said...

I was extremely shocked and saddened to learn about Sarah's death. I only knew her through being on the staff of one the archives where she came to do her research, but she certainly stood out both for her intelligence and skill as a historian and her attractive personality. She gave a copy of her dissertation to the archives and it was an original and impressive piece of scholarship. We on the staff here want to express to her family and friends our deep sympathy for your loss.

Bob Shuster
Billy Graham Center Archives

linda lewis at: February 5, 2013 at 12:35 PM said...

I am in shock at learning this news. I knew Sarah as a little girl, having attended (in the 80s) the church her father led in Oberlin. Bright and ever so sweet; a real joy to know. I will carry with me the memories of her as a sweet, sweet child forever.

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