Friday, October 1, 2021

The Sickness of Religion at Harvard (the Discovery of the Lost Correspondence Between Fr. John Romanides and Harvard University)

 

Between the years 1958 and 1965 Fr. John Romanides served in various parishes of the New England area, he was the Professor of Dogmatics at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, and was a student at Harvard University under the supervision of Fr. George Florovsky, with whom he also lived with in a duplex in Cambridge, and was a colleague with at Holy Cross School of Theology. He resigned from his position at Holy Cross School of Theology in 1965, protesting against the unjust removal of Fr. George Florovsky from the School. Though he completed all the requirements he needed for a Ph.D at Harvard University, and was working on his thesis under the guidance of Fr. Florovsky, he took a professorship position in Greece, where he completed his thesis in Greek and developed it as a textbook for his dogmatics class that was republished several times. He failed from there to turn in his thesis at Harvard to receive his doctorate.

In the final months of his life, between 14 July 2000 and 4 July 2001, Fr. Romanides attempted to contact Harvard University from Greece to make a request that before he died he would be given the doctorate he worked on several decades earlier. The responses he received misunderstood his intentions, and instead of looking into the matter properly or even requesting his thesis from him to see if they could proceed with the matter, it appears after a small formal inquiry that he was just shrugged off like an annoying gnat, which obviously left him frustrated. He seemed to have believed that it was his controversial thesis that religion is a sickness which caused them to shrug him off. After all he went through at the University of Athens many decades earlier to get his doctorate, this reaction should not be a surprise. It appears that when Fr. Romanides died on 1 November 2001 it was without receiving his desired doctorate from Harvard.

Having received permission from various sources to translate and publish the complete correspondence of Fr. Romanides, I have put it off because new letters keep on popping up, albeit with long intervals in between. I finally came to the point a few months ago to prepare to get everything ready to publish them. Then a few nights ago I decided to run an experiment on Fr. Romanides's website, Romanity.org, by going into the Wayback machine and clicking on every website update he made while he was alive to see the evolution of his endeavor to get some of his writings out on the internet before he died. This is when I discovered the lost correspondence between Fr. Romanides and Harvard University. It appears that in his frustration with Harvard, on 16 June 2001 he published their correspondence under the title "The Neurological Sickness of Religion and its Cure", which only linked to the letters listed in chronological order with no additional commentary. On 1 August 2001 it appears he had a change of mind regarding the title, and renamed it "The Sickness of Religion at Harvard". For some reason this was removed from his website after he died when the next update took place on 1 December 2001. I'm not sure why. But it seems to me that he did want this correspondence on his website, and since I was able to access it, I am now going to publish it here, and in the future when I publish the complete correspondence of Fr. Romanides as well. Later I will probably add some footnotes to explain some things, but here it will be published the way he had it on his website with a few footnotes of his own.

On a personal note, at the same time Fr. Romanides was trying to get his much-deserved doctorate (which should have at least been an honorary one), I was also in the process of getting a Master's degree for which I had completed all the requirements after three years, but due to certain technicalities I was never able to receive it. In August of 2001 I was on vacation in Greece after going through my own frustration, and I attempted to contact Fr. Romanides to meet with him, but I was unable to do so. Of course, I didn't know he was in correspondence with Harvard, otherwise I would have helped him as best I could since I live in Boston. This is an issue I would have loved to have discussed with him as we were both facing similar frustrations. A few years later, I would take a course at Harvard, among several I took there, for which I received a failing grade, based on my own misunderstanding of the technicalities of how Harvard operated in my specific predicament as I attempted to have this course, which I was never able to attend, get struck from my record. I found out how frustrating it is to deal with Harvard as opposed to other schools I had attended, who allowed me no hearing and no wiggle room nor even the slightest mercy, and among all my good grades I was stuck with an F for a class I never attended. In the correspondence below, as well as the title, I think you can see this same frustration come through by a man aware he was very near death.


The Sickness of Religion at Harvard

Letter to Professor C. Wolf, July 14, 2000.


Prof. Christoph Wolf,

Dean of the Harvard Graduate
School of Arts and Sciences

July 14, 2000


Dear Dean Wolf,

I completed my Field/Core examinations for the Ph.D. at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as attested by "two notes from Professor Rogers G. Albritton, Chairman of the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History and Philosophy of Religion, both dated June 11, 1962, that the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History and Philosophy of Religion, held on June 5, 1962, the recommendation of your examiners for a "pass with distinction" in your Field Examination was upheld and that this "satisfactorily completes your Core Examinations." But while in the process of putting together my thesis, I was elected a full professor with tenure at the School of Theology of the University of Thessaloniki on the basis of my ThD from the University of Athens.

But the colonels who had revolted and had taken over the Greek government, just as I had been appointed, obliged all professors to prepare textbooks for their students. So I included the material which I had collected for my Ph.D. thesis for Harvard in this textbook for students. Eventually this textbook grew into two volumes, Volume A (356 pages)[1] , being an historical explanation of the content of Volume B (549 pages),[2] which is a collection of the official texts of the Nine Roman Ecumenical Councils from 325 to 1341-1351 and the General Councils during part of the Ottoman period from 1638 to 1838.

I am now retired with a full Greek professorial pension, although a native American born in Greece in 1927, since my father had become an American citizen in 1925. My parents were born and raised in the Roman fortress town of Arabissus (now in East central Turkey) where Emperor Maurice (582-602) was born [3] (and who appointed St. Gregory the Great Pope of Rome.) I arrived in New York as an infant where I grew up until I went to Hellenic College where I learned Greek, Turkish being the native language of my parents.

Then I went to the Yale University Divinity School (BD) and then to the University of Athens (Th.D). My doctoral thesis is called "Ancestral Sin" which I think proves that such a doctrine did not exist, neither in Judaism, nor in the primitive Church, nor in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. It was an outgrowth of the Carolingian tradition which knew only Augustine in its inception. But since my Archbishop agreed with one single professor who accused me of heresy he refused to have anything to do with me. So I went to the Harvard Divinity school to work on a second Doctorate. Then I decided to switch fields and transferred to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (29-1-1960).

I finally arrived at the conclusion that religion is one of many fantasies which afflict human thinking and perhaps the most dangerous of all. This I develop in the very first chapter of Book A (pages 9-45), entitled: "Religion is a Neurological sickness, but Orthodoxy is its cure." [4]

I have thus far 26 works in English and 12 in Greek at website http://www.romanity.org. My partners on the web are working in similar areas. I include today's statistics of our outreach.

I am now 73 years old and I would very much like to receive my Harvard Ph.D. before I pass away. I would very much appreciate your guidance.

Sincerely,

John S. Romanides

[1] First edition 1973, Second edition 1981, Third edition 1983, Fourth edition 1999

[2] First edition 1973, Second edition 1981, Third edition 1982, Fourth edition 2000.

[3] ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA 1959, Vol. 15, page 105 and who appointed St. Gregory the Great Pope of Rome, see Gregory of Tours' HISTORY OF THE FRANKS, X,1.

[4] Published first by the Monastery of Koutloumousiou of Mount Athos in 1996. See references in pages 160-161 in book by Andrew J. Sopko entitled "Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy, The Theology of John Romanides, Synaxis Press, the Canadian Orthodox Publishing House, 37323 HAWKINS ROAD, DEWDNEY, B.C., VOM-1HO, Canada.

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Answer from Professor McCavana, November 1, 2000.

THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES. HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Office of the Dean

Byerly Hall - 8 Garden street

Cambridge, Massachusets 02138

November 1, 2000


Dear Mr. Romanides,

I am writing to follow up on your inquiry about readmission to the PhD program in Religion at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In my previous letter I noted that I had sent on your request to the Classics department based on the people you named as advisors. However, when your file was retrieved from Archives it became clear that you had been registered in the Committee on the Study of Religion. Consequently, I sent them your request and a copy of the items in your file.

Unfortunately, as you will see from the attached letter from Professor David Hall, Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion, a readmission into the program will not be possible. Professor Hall details the reasons behind this decision in his letter.

I trust that this decision will not come as too much of a disappointment to you, and I wish you well with your future academic endeavors.

Sincerely

Garth McCavana

Associate Dean for Student Affairs

Cc: Dean Peter Ellison

Inc: Professor David Hall letter.

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Letter to Professor McCavana, November 27, 2000.

Professor Garth McCavana

Associate Dean for Student Affairs

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Byerly Hall, 8 Garden Street

Cambridge, Mass. 02138

November 27, 2000


Dear Dean McCavana,

In my letter I was not asking for readmission to the PhD program in Religion at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I was requesting that I now be given the degree that I have already earned. That I have indeed earned it is clear from the following:

Enclosed are two notes from Professor Rogers G. Albritton, Chairman of the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History and Philosophy of Religion, both dated June 11, 1962, that the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History and Philosophy of Religion, held on June 5, 1962, the recommendation of your examiners for a "Pass with distinction" in your Field Examinations was upheld and that this "satisfactorily completes your Core Examinations."

As you will also see from the enclosed letter, dated September 30, 1963, from Professor Franklin L. Ford, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I am being welcomed "as a new member of the alumnus body of Harvard University. As a former student of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and so automatically a member of the Harvard Foundation for Advances Study and Research..." This letter was sent to my home in Savannah, GA at the time when my family and I were getting ready to leave for Greece in order to take up by new position as full professor at the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki.

Also the following letter, dated February 24, 1966 from Marjery H. Dunham, Assistant Registrar for Programs for Higher Degrees, which included an application for the PhD, also testifies to the above facts. However, this letter was sent to my old address in Brookline, MASS so I was unable to act upon it within the time limits set.

I trust that this clarifies the matter, and I look forward to your favorable response.

Sincerely,

John S. Romanides

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Letter to Professor T. Ellison, April 16, 2001.

Professor Peter T. Ellison

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Harvard University

University Hall 18

Cambridge, MA 02138

April 16, 2001


Dear Dean Ellison,

Please find a copy of my letter to Prof. Garth McCavana, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, dated November 27, 2000, which was my answer to his letter to me dated November 1, 2000 with a cc: to yourself (copy enclosed). After waiting more than five months for an answer, I decided to bring the matter to your attention also.

It seems that only my file at Harvard Divinity School had been retrieved on the basis of which Prof. Garth McCavana constructed his quoted letter to me of November 1, 2000, not knowing that I had transferred from Harvard Divinity School to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. For this reason he seems to have had the impression that I was re-applying for readmission to Harvard Divinity School.

In any case I think that my enclosed letter of November 17, 2001 to Associate Dean Garth McCavana speaks for itself, i.e. that I had completed my requirements for the PhD within the context of requirements applicable on June 5, 1962, as is clear from the two notes from Professor Rogers G. Albritton which certifies that I had completed my Field/Core examinations for which my examiners gave me a "Pass with distinction" (copy sent to Prof. McCavana), and especially on September 30, 1963 when your predecessor, Professor Franklin L. Ford, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, welcomed me "as a new member of the alumnus body of Harvard University. As a former student of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and so automatically of the Harvard Foundation for Advanced study and Research.... (copy sent to Prof. McCavana)".

The basic reason for this transfer from Harvard Divinity School to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was my decision to seek a position in a University not controlled by any Church. This happened sooner than expected for two reasons:

1) I was elected a full professor at the University of Thessaloniki just at the time I was winding up my work at Harvard. The basic reason for this election had been my ThD thesis in Greek, called Original Sin, at the University of Athens, which proved that the Augustinian position on the subject was never accepted by the East Roman tradition, but infiltrated into the modern Orthodox Churches as part of the Balkanization of the European Part of the Ottoman Empire supported by Imperial Russia and Napoleon. My thesis was attacked violently by one of the professors in writing obliging me to answer also in writing which was all recorded in the minutes of the school. In the mean time the professor in question retired after which my thesis was voted upon unanimously. But this professor was a close friend of my Archbishop in America who literally threw me out of his office. I reacted by becoming a student at Harvard Divinity School. This controversy became the basis of a book which appeared in 1996 entitled "Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy, The Theology of John Romanides" by Andrew J. Sopko, [1] which probably exists in one of the Harvard libraries.

2) The incident which triggered my transfer to Arts and Sciences was that our Archbishop Iacovos fired Professor Georges Florovsky, a member of the faculty of Harvard Divinity School, from the faculty of Holy Cross School of Theology, where I was also teaching, and I resigned in protest.

In the light of the fact that Augustine happens to be the very backbone of both Papal and most of Protestant Christianity, an objective treatment of my case may be difficult.

Sincerely

John S. Romanides

[1] SYNAXIS PRESS, The Canadian Orthodox Publishing House, 37323 Hawkins Road, Dewdney, BC, VOM-1HO, Canada.

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Answer from Professor T. Ellison, April 30, 2001.

Office of the Dean

University Hall

Cambridge, Massachusets 02138

Phone (617) 4961464 Fax (617) 4968623

April 30, 2001


Dear Mr. Romanides,

We apologize for the delay in responding to your inquiry. Given the nature of your request, it was important that the Committee on the Study of Religion have the opportunity to consider your situation. Granting your request to complete your PhD work will not be possible. I would like to respond to the points you have made in your letter dated November 27, 2000. Alumnus status is not tied to the submission or receipt of a PhD degree. It is granted to anyone who has completed a term at Harvard. Also, a degree application is not an official indication that a thesis has been completed. The department or program would have signed the Thesis Acceptance Certificate or its equivalent. No evidence exists in your file that the thesis had been submitted. Even if your thesis was uncovered, no faculty members affiliated with the Committee are available to evaluate your work.

As indicated in Professor David Hall's letter dated October 25, 2000, the program has changed significantly in the time that you have been away. It would not be possible for you to proceed from the point at which you left the graduate school. The program now has requirements regarding coursework and language study that were not in place when you were a student in the early 1960's. The structure of the general examinations has changed. Given the circumstances, the program cannot reinstate you and award you the PhD degree.

We wish you success for your future academic endeavors.

Sincerely yours

Peter Ellison

Dean

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Letter to Professor T. Ellison, May 27, 2001.

Dean Peter T. Ellison

Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

University Hall

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

USA

May 27, 2001


Dear Dean Ellison,

Thank you for your letter of April 30, 2001.

My enclosed letter of July 14, 2000 to your predecessor Professor Christoph Wolf, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, was an update of what I had been doing since I completed my Harvard Field/Core examinations and what had happened to my thesis.

However, the most important part of my letter was deliberately ignored in letters which I received in answer. What was deliberately ignored was the fact that I had reached the conclusion that "religion is one of many fantasies which afflict human thinking and perhaps the most dangerous of all." This I develop in the very first chapter of Book A (pages 9-45) of my University text book for students, entitled: "Religion is a Neurological Sickness, but Orthodoxy is its cure." This study was first published by Koutloumousiou Monastery of Mount Athos in 1996. So receiving my Harvard PhD was associated in my mind with my thesis that religion is a sickness and indeed the root cause of so many historical conflicts which are still going on all the time all over the world.

So when I received Prof. Garth McCavana's letter of November 1, 2000 I naturally concluded that some pious ones were busy at work keeping the most important part of my letter hidden and were concentrating on technicalities in order to avoid my thesis that "Religion is a Neurological Sickness."

Sincerely yours,

John S. Romanides

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Letter to Professor T. Ellison, June 22, 2001.

Dean Peter T. Ellison

Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

University Hall

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

USA

June 22, 2001


Dear Dean Ellison,

I note that in your letter to me of April 30, 2001 you make reference to a letter by Professor David Hall dated October 25, 2000 which evidently is also the one referred to as an attachment by Professor Garth McCavana in his letter to me of November 1, 2000, but which letter I never received.

Since this letter has obviously played an important role in the decision making on your side of the fence, I would be very much obliged to receive a copy which may help me better understand your side's manner of reasoning.

My manner of reasoning was clearly stated in my letter to you dated May 27, 2001.

Sincerely yours,

John S. Romanides

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Letter from Professor T. Ellison, July 4, 2001.


Office of the Dean

University Hall 18

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Phone (617) 4961464 Fax (617) 4968623

June 29, 2001


Dear Mr Romanides,

I am writing on behalf of Peter T. Ellison, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in response to your letter to him dated June 22, 2001.

Deans Ellison and McCavana, requested that I send you a copy of your letter, a copy of Dean Ellison's response to your previous correspondence,dated April 30, 2001, and a copy of Professor Hall's letter to Dean McCavana outlining the policies behind the Committee on the Study of Religion regarding their decision about your inquiry.

We wish you success in your future academic endeavors.

Sincerely,

Helen T. Cassels

Assistant to the Dean

Source
 
 
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