Lauren E. Brubaker Jr
Rev. Doctor Lauren E. Brubaker, known affectionately by friends and colleagues simply as Bru, was a well known and loved presence around the Columbia community and on the campus of the University of South Carolina from the early 1940s until his passing.
A Presbyterian minister, with a Th.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he came to the University of South Carolina in 1948. He held the title of University Chaplain, and headed the work of the campus chaplain and taught courses in theology and the Bible.
Dr. Brubaker inaugurated one of the first programs in the country for the critical academic study of religion in 1949 when the Department of Bible and Religion was awarded departmental status. There had been no significant change in methods of studying religion throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brubaker brought the critical study of the Bible and Christian theology to the University of South Carolina.
Under Brubaker, the study of religion at USC began as courses in Old and New Testaments and a branch of Christian theology known as apologetics. But recognizing that a department with “Bible” in its name was defined too narrowly, he subsequently had the Department’s name changed to the Department of Religion. Later, reflecting evolving conceptions of the academic discipline in institutions of higher learning, the name was changed to Religious Studies. That conceptual change prepared the way for the hiring of Hal W. French in 1972 to teach Comparative Religion with a focus on South and East Asian religions. Kevin Lewis was hired in 1973 to teach courses in Religion and Culture.
Brubaker’s work in the classroom was informed by historical-critical methods of inquiry and methods of theological reflection that took culture seriously. In addition to Bible and Christian Theology courses, a course in Art, Theology, and Politics became a mainstay of the curriculum.
While his discipline was theology, he taught in many different subject areas, especially when he was the sole member of the Department. He established the focus of the department of religious studies as an interdisciplinary enterprise using, as appropriate, historical, comparative, philosophical, and cultural analyses of religious phenomena, hiring four more faculty in his 30-plus year tenure. He held national stature as a President of the American Academy of Religion in the 1960s.
For the first ten years, Dr. Brubaker was the sole faculty member teaching all courses. The undergraduate major was established in 1968 with the addition of Dr. Don Jones to teach biblical courses. The faculty gradually increased over the decades to include professors in Asian studies, cultural studies, Islamic and Jewish studies. Brubaker retired in 1980 but continued to teach on a part-time basis for the department and maintained a close relationship with the faculty and students until he moved out of the area in 1990. He continued to return to visit with colleagues, connect with friends, and interact with students at USC until his passing in 2010.