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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Religious Studies


Hal W. French

(1930-2014)

The Memorial Service for Hal French was held Tuesday, October 7, from 4:30 pm at Rutledge Chapel on the Historic Horseshoe of the University of South Carolina where he taught from 1972 until his passing in the summer of 2014. Alumni, faculty colleagues and friends from the Department of Religious Studies, the South Carolina Honors College and Preston Residence College came together to remember a beloved teacher, friend, and mentor.

Many stories, memories, and tributes were shared. Former students joined retired faculty and family to remember the man everyone knew simply as Hal.

Around the University of South Carolina Campus, you usually didn’t even need to add his last name for people to know just exactly who you meant. He joined the Department of Religious Studies to cover the area of Asian religions and later served as Chair of the department until he retired in 1995. Although retired, he continued to teach in both the graduate and undergraduate programs, direct theses for both graduate and undergraduate students, and participate in all the activities and events of the department. He chaired the committee for the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lectures in Moral, Ethical, and Religious Studies until at age 80 he requested the duties be passed on to someone else.

He continued to teach the department’s courses in Asian studies as well as the Psychology of Religion; Gandhi, King and non-violence; Herman Hesse; and any number of popular courses over the years. Until the end he could fill classes of 60 to 70. Teaching for both Religious Studies and the South Carolina Honors College, he took groups of students on international travel courses to China, Japan, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere.

Hal gratefully handed over his teaching duties in the area of Asian religions when we were able to hire three new faculty in Buddhism, Hindusim, and South Asian Studies in 2013-14. But he continued teaching for the Honors College and taking students abroad for stimulating cross-cultural learning experiences; his last class trip was in the spring of 2014.

In 2014, Hal had decided to retire finally from all his university activities. His last class was scheduled with the Honors College for Fall 2014 and he would be vacating his offices in Preston College at the end of Spring 2015. But he had a long list of plans for what he would be doing next. He said there was a substantial book list to begin enjoying and many volunteer organizations and activities, as well as his continued participation in interfaith organizations and activities – though no longer in an administrative role. He passed away unexpectedly July 10, 2014.

He touched lives with his wit, humor, and quiet wisdom. His academic style was neither somber nor pompous but jubilant, exuberant, and celebratory of life, humanity, and spirit. He will be greatly missed by many.

See these links for the memorials from  Preston College  and The Daily Gamecock