Thursday, May 28, 2009
Truman G. Madsen
As Mormonism goes, there are some names outside the general leadership that resonate profoundly, with such recognition as to be assured immortality within the ranks of the membership, names whispered in church, in homes, on street corners across the globe, with a certain reverence.
Truman Madsen's name was just such a name.
I was a far too young honors student at BYU when I found myself seated in his Philosophy of Religious Language seminar. I can still picture the classroom in vivid detail, somewhere in the Joseph F. Smith building, and where I sat, and even what he was wearing on the day he said he believed we'd all be likely naked in the Celestial Kingdom. It was one of those esoteric discussions that came seemingly out of nowhere, and of course, the first thing I did was notice how he was dressed.
No one grew up in Mormonism a stranger to Truman Madsen, the man and legend, a scholar and philosopher, teacher, early motivational speaker. To come to a point in my own life where I was actually studying at his feet--it might as well have been Aristotle by reputation, but I was something of a giggly skeptic, wondering why we were speculating on dress codes in the hereafter. I'd done the foundational Philosophy course under David Paulsen when barely seventeen, and later went on to study under several others, including Existentialism with James Faulcouner, as part of my journey through the liberal arts offerings at BYU, but Truman Madsen was the most unusual and memorable of all the faculty members with whom I studied philosophy.
Like many of the courses I took at the time, the subject matter came to be far more profound in my later life than I ever imagined then. For me, then, Religious Language seemed to be as foreign, and superfluous, as Polish. The Philosophy of it? I couldn't imagine any particular relevance in my own young life in a religious tradition that didn't seem to focus on liturgy or language.
I was sad to see, this morning, that the great legend that was Truman Madsen was stilled, when he lost his recent battle with cancer.
It calls to mind another personal story he shared with the class, that of a young student and his wife who went off to Harvard and were counseled not to postpone having a family. They had that family, when young, and some few years later his wife had an unexpected hysterectomy. It was a poignant tale. He clearly treasured that wife, and those children.
Funny those are the things I remember, when my mind wanders back to days on the green grass of Provo, in front of the Harold B. Lee Library, walking across the quad, to a class, sitting half awake in a semi-circular classroom watching a legend at the podium discuss religious language and the esoteric speculation of the active mind.
Truman G. Madsen.
Truman G. Madsen, grandson of early LDS Church president Heber J. Grant, was emeritus professor of Philosophy at Brigham Young University and held the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Studies at BYU. He completed his education at Harvard University and authored many volumes on religion and philosophy. During his tenure at BYU he was instrumental in bringing members of several non-LDS faiths to campus for interreligious dialogue. He had been director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near-Eastern Studies, and was guest lecturer at Haifa University, Northeastern University and the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. He was an individual of great stature, chiseled Charleton Heston good looks and sonic boom presence.
His influence is widely felt in the community that nurtured his faith, for countless have bought his popular books like "Eternal Man," listened to his audiotapes, attended his lectures, and will continue to hold his name in measured reverence in humble homes and hallowed halls.