Two prominent scholars who delved into topics of national interest have died, according to online reports.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a scholar of religion and political philosophy at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, died on Sunday following a major cardiac incident earlier this summer, according to an obituary on the the university’s Web site. She was 72.
Pauline R. Maier, a professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Techology and a leading scholar of the nation’s early periods, died on Monday after a brief illness, according to a remembrance on H-LAW, a discussion network at Humanities and Social Sciences Online. She was 75.
Ms. Elshtain was the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the Divinity School, whose dean, Margaret M. Mitchell, remembered her as “a formidable intellectual presence in the academy and in American public life.”
A prolific author, Ms. Elshtain’s work touched on a broad range of issues, including bioethics, feminism, and terrorism. Her books include Democracy on Trial (1995), in which she argued that a national obsession with rights instead of responsibilities posed a threat to civil society, and Just War Against Terror (2003), in which she defended the use of force in response to terrorism.
“She loved to provoke and, through provocations, to stimulate conversation, argument and opportunities to learn,” the obituary quotes Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School, as saying. “No doubt many commentators on her work will spend their energies discussing her from what are called ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ stances. But to reduce her to categories of partisanship or ideology, would be to miss the scholar.”
Ms. Maier was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History at MIT, where she joined the faculty in 1978, and was the author of numerous articles and books on the history of revolutionary America. Her last book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, published in 2010, won the 2011 George Washington Book Prize, which recognizes the year’s best books on the nation’s founding era.
R.B. Bernstein, the author of the remembrance at H-LAW and a distinguished adjunct professor of law at New York Law School, lists Ratification among four books at the core of Ms. Maier’s scholarly work, describing them as “distinguished, influential, and well-crafted.”
He adds, in a personal note, that she “was not only a role model to me, as to so many other historians, but she also brought out the sheer fun of doing history.” He credits her as “one of the premier explainers of our profession, elucidating complex ideas and tangled historical events and processes in clear, graceful language, and always with a wry and creative sense of humor.”