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.