1933 - 2016
Charles Anthony Ryerson III, PhD died peacefully surrounded by former students and friends on Saturday, September 24, at the Medical Center of Princeton, at the age of 83. He was the son of Ada Littlefield (1890-1985) and Charles Ryerson (1892-1981) of Middletown, Rhode Island.
Dr. Ryerson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1955 from Oberlin College, the Master of Divinity degree in 1961 from Union Theological Seminary in New York, and a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Columbia University.
During the 1970s, he did doctoral research at Madurai University and was an associate lecturer at the Tamil Nadu Theological College in Madurai, India. In 1979, he joined the Princeton Theological Seminary faculty as Assistant Professor of the History of Religions and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1986. During these years, Dr. Ryerson also regularly taught a course titled, "Religion and Society in India" for Princeton University's Department of Religion. In 1994, he was inaugurated as the Elmer K. and Ethel R. Timby Professor of the History of Religions. He was also awarded an honorary "Doctorate of Divinity" by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology in Madras, India, in recognition of his services to the Indian church and Indian higher education. In June of 1999, he retired from Princeton Theological Seminary and became Professor Emeritus.
He authored books on the religious experience of South India, Encounter in South India; and Regionalism and Religion: The Tamil Renaissance and Popular Hinduism; and an autobiographical account India Reflections, 1955-2003 as well as numerous articles. He also developed a summer internship program in which Princeton seminary students traveled to India to experience the culture and the religious phenomena that they had read about in class. This trip became a formative experience for dozens of future ministers and educators, and Dr. Ryerson saw it as an "arduous and exhilarating adventure to guide theological students into voyages of discovery, pilgrimages into new worlds of meaning, explorations of other understandings of the universe." The historian of religions, he said, was "always trying to understand the un-understandable, and to experience what others experience." For more than forty years, Dr. Ryerson was a trustee of The American College Foundation, in Madurai, India, serving many years as president.
He is survived by his sister, Ruth Bouliew of Saginaw, Michigan, nephews Kenneth Bell and Charles Bell; grand-nephews and nieces Andrew Bell, Anthony Bell, Melissa Bell Petzold, Melonie Bell Brown, Ashley Bell Jordan, Jack Cohoon, and Casey Cohoon;and many great grand-nieces and nephews. A funeral service will be held at on Saturday, October 1 at 1:30 p.m., at St. Columba's Berkeley Memorial Chapel, 55 Vaucluse Avenue, in Middletown, Rhode Island. A memorial service will be held at Princeton Theological Seminary at a time yet to be determined. Memorial contributions may be made to the "The Trustees of the Endowment Fund of the American College, Madurai, India," 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1020, New York, NY 10115.
Published in New York Times from Sep. 30 to Oct. 1, 2016.