Hugh Stewart Barbour

BarbourHugh Stewart Barbour, 99, January 8, 2021, calmly in his sleep while a resident of Kendal on Hudson in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. He was born in 1921 in Beijing, China, the first of three sons of Dorothy Dickinson Barbour, an American missionary, and George Brown Barbour, a Scottish geologist and scholar. Hugh had a peripatetic childhood. “By the time I was sixteen I had crossed the Pacific five times and the Atlantic ten, and been the outsider in ten schools,” he wrote in “Spilgrimage,” an autobiographical essay in The Lamb’s War: Quaker Essays to Honor Hugh Barbour, published by Earlham College Press in 1992, on his retirement from the faculty of Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. A lifelong scholar, academic, peace activist, and punster, he was still formulating plans well past his mid-90s to write a paper on the meaning of Jesus to the Quakers.

Considered among the most important Quaker historians of the twentieth century, Hugh has been remembered by former Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion students as “a tender spirit coupled with a brilliant intellect” and “a superb teacher, advisor, mentor, and great friend.” According to former student and colleague Max Carter, a lecture by Hugh might be likened to “a news conference about the history of the world at warp speed.”

Hugh attended Bryanston School in the UK before entering Harvard University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1942, with graduate school acceptances to both medical and divinity schools. He chose the latter, moving from Yale Divinity School to Union Theological Seminary (bachelor of divinity, magna cum laude), where he studied with Paul Tillich, Reinhold Neibuhr, and John Bennett (“the gentle giants,” he called them). Hugh returned to Yale to complete his doctorate (1952) under Roland Bainton, writing his dissertation on “nothing less than the whole experience of early Quakerism.” That thesis became a book, The Quakers in Puritan England, which remains an essential source for religious scholars today. Hugh authored or co-authored six additional books, including Early Quaker Writings: 1650-1700, Quaker Crosscurrents, Slavery and Theology, and The Quakers (part of the Denominations in America book series, co-authored with J. William Frost), as well as more than 70 articles, reviews, chapters, and pamphlets.

Hugh joined the faculty of Earlham College in 1953. There he met Sirkka Talikka, a Finnish exchange student, whom he married in 1959. Though Hugh’s expertise embraced world religions, his deepest commitment remained to Quakerism and the Bible. When a peace studies program was founded at Earlham, he divided his time between that program and the department of religion, and he counseled conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. He also taught church history at Earlham School of Religion.

Hugh was a member of Friends World Committee for Consultation; a Quaker delegate to the World Council of Churches in Geneva; a Fulbright Professor at the University of Oulu, Finland; and the recipient of a Ford Foundation grant to study in southeast Asia. He was a steadfast member of Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends General Conference, and Friends United Meeting. He wrote frequent letters to representatives in Washington, and refused to pay war taxes. He and Sirkka led numerous Earlham foreign study groups, with side trips to visit dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Despite Hugh’s considerable accomplishments, he held himself to a still higher standard. “I have not yet rid the world of nuclear arms,” he wrote in 1992.

Hugh was a member of Clear Creek Meeting in Richmond, Ind. from 1953 to 1991; Friends Meeting at Cambridge, Mass. from 1991 to 2005; and Chappaqua (N.Y.) Meeting from 2005 to 2021. He and Sirkka moved into Kendal on Hudson in 2005.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sirkka; his three daughters, Elisa, Celia (Peter), and Maida (Seven); and three grandchildren.

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