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Harry Partin, Long-time Teacher of History of Religions, Dies

Former faculty member was 82

Harry B. Partin, 82, who taught the history of religions at Duke for 30 years, died peacefully June 10.


A native of Nicholasville, Kentucky, Partin was a former member of the faculty of the Department of Religion and also of the Graduate Program in Religion. He received his undergraduate degree from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, and several graduate degrees, including the doctorate, from the University of Chicago. His mentors at Chicago include Joachim Wach, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Kitagawa. Although trained particularly in Islamic history and religion, his broader interests included the history and phenomenology of religion. He was also associate editor of the University of Chicago Press journal, History of Religions.

Upon leaving the University of Chicago, he joined the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland where he was responsible for organizing and conducting a five-year study of the relations between Christians and adherents of other major religions, principally Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.


Partin came to Duke University in 1964. There his teaching, lecturing, and writing ranged beyond Islamic studies to include methodological issues in the study of the history of religions generally. In the later years of his career at Duke University, which coincided with the appearance and growth of a wide variety of "new religions" in the United States, he developed an interest in the study of alternative religions and consequently lectured, taught, and wrote about this phenomenon. Among his publications in this area was the book Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, written in collaboration with Robert Ellwood of the University of Southern California.


He was for many years a member of the Committee on History of Religions of the American Council of Learned Societies and a Danforth Fellow. He is survived by his wife of more than half a century, Marilyn Partin, and by two daughters and a son: Dr. Ruth Partin Clemens of Alpharetta, Georgia; Emily Allison Partin of Asheville; and William Jefferson Partin of Washougal, Washington, and by two granddaughters.


A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, (today) at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham. Memorials may be made to Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky; Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago; and Pilgrim United Church of Christ.