Henry Levinson: 1948-2010
Henry Samuel Levinson died on January 4, 2010, at age 61, from complications
stemming from multiple sclerosis. He battled this disease for more than twenty
years with grace, humor, and dignity. He was much beloved by his colleagues and
Henry Levinson was a noted scholar of Santayana's work, as well as the work
of William James. He was the author of Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual
Life (1992), Science, Metaphysics and the Chance of Salvation: An Interpretation of
the Thought of William James (1978), and The Religious Investigations of William
James (1981), as well as numerous articles. He received his bachelor's degree
from Stanford University and his doctorate from Princeton. Levinson served as a
Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for
over 25 years. He also taught at Stanford and Harvard before joining the faculty at
UNCG. He taught courses in American religious thought, modern Judaism, and the
philosophy of religion — and kept teaching right up until the end.
For Levinson, Santayana's status as a philosopher on the peripheries of
American Protestant culture was key to his ability to offer useful immanent
criticism of American culture. Levinson's Santayana displayed a variety of religious
naturalism that emphasized the role chance and contingency played in the course
of human events, even as it promoted the adjustment of human powers to human
ideals. Santayana, in Levinson's treatment, was as appreciative of the world "of
unheard melodies and uncreated worlds" as he was tough-minded about illusory
religious thinking. The spiritual and moral center of Levinson's academic work
involved shedding light upon "the innocence of things ... hated" and "the clearness
ofthe things ... frowned upon or denied."
Henry was a playful and imaginative scholar of religion, interpreting the
religious visions of others to his students with delight. Henry's own work showed a
reverent attachment to the democratic and traditional Jewish "sources of his being."
His wit served as a tool for coping with physical challenge; he will be much missed.
BETHEL L. EDDY
Worcester Polytechnic Institute