Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940; Jill D. Brett (202) 707-2905
NOTE: High-resolution digital versions of these images are available to the media upon request.

View a webcast of the ceremony.

November 29, 2004

Library of Congress Announces Winners of John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced today the award of the second John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences to Jaroslav Pelikan of New Haven, Conn., and Paul Ricoeur of Paris, France. Billington will present the shared award at a formal ceremony at the Library of Congress at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The Kluge Prize of 1 million dollars is given for lifetime achievement in the humanities and social sciences - areas of scholarship for which there are no Nobel Prizes. These disciplines include anthropology, criticism in the arts and literature, history, linguistics, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion and sociology. Nominators for the prize were asked to recommend preeminent scholars in any of these or other closely related fields whose work was recognized as outstanding by their peers.

In announcing the award, Billington said: "Jaroslav Pelikan is an historian who deals with the whole of the Christian tradition from the ancient Near East to the present. He began his deep scholarship on Luther, having been brought up in a Lutheran household, and he has moved over time to consider the whole history of church doctrine, both through the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is concerned with the history and practice of worship in its doctrinal and creedal forms over two millennia.

"Paul Ricoeur is a philosopher who draws on the entire tradition of western philosophy to explore and explain common problems: What is a self? How is memory used and abused? What is the nature of responsibility? He is a constant questioner - always pressing to understand the nature and limits of what constitutes our humanity."

Jaroslav Pelikan and Paul Ricoeur, two scholars of enormous and wide-ranging accomplishment, will divide between them the second John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity. Ricoeur insists on the centrality of interpretation for humanistic learning; he has rehabilitated the Western humanistic tradition as an interconnected fabric of meaning. Pelikan has drawn together and commented upon two millennia of documents concerning the doctrines and the practice of Christian worship, from the early Middle East through European and American Catholicism and Protestantism to the Orthodoxy of churches of the East.

These two scholars, one an historian, the other a philosopher, demonstrate the rich and complex legacies of humanistic learning and the unremitting effort required to master these resources and make them available to contemporary readers.

Ricoeur's journey of interrogation through a wide variety of contemporary thought and Pelikan's journey through diverse linguistic frameworks and religious traditions represent the lifetime of achievement in the study of humanity that the Kluge Prize seeks to honor.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources and to stimulate and energize interaction with policymakers in Washington. The Kluge Center houses five senior Kluge Chairs, other senior-level chairs and nearly 25 postdoctoral fellows. For more information about any of the fellowships and programs offered by the center, visit its Web site at

Jaroslav Pelikan

Jaroslav PelikanOver the past 50 years, Jaroslav Pelikan has made unrivaled contributions to intellectual, cultural and religious history. His major achievements include: his authoritative work on the life and work of Martin Luther, both his own writing on Luther and his painstaking translation of Luther's writings (called "Luther's Works," a series of 22 volumes, which Pelikan edited from 1955 to 1971); his original and monumental five-volume "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine" (1971-1989); and, his volumes that gather together the proliferation of Christian sects in our time, particularly in the Third World, "Credo: Historical and Theological Introduction to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition" (1994).

Pelikan's contributions extend even beyond these rigorous academic works. He has illuminated many aspects of both political and religious life through the visual arts, music, literature, textual interpretations and the role of the university. His popular works include "Jesus Through the Centuries" (1985), "Bach Among the Theologians" (1986), "The Idea of the University" (1992) and "Mary Through the Centuries" (1996). "Jesus Through the Centuries" presents rich reproductions of paintings and icons to examine the differing concepts of believers and unbelievers that, in the words of church historian Mark Noll, "added increasing depth to the portrait of Jesus Christ and his significance." Also illustrative of his role as an intellectual statesman, Pelikan's work on "The Bible and the Constitution" (2004) develops cross-century connections and parallels between scriptural interpretation and American constitutional law.

Born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, Jaroslav Jan Pelikan was the first child to be born in the United States to his Serbian mother. His Slovak father had emigrated at the age of 4 to the United States, and, as an adult, returned to Slovakia as a Lutheran minister. His paternal grandfather was Bishop of the Slovak Lutheran Church in America. Young Jaroslav developed an early love of language -- learning to use a typewriter at the age of 2 1/2, mastering Slovak, Czech, German, English and, in college, Greek, Latin, Serbian, Russian and Hebrew. His intense devotion to scholarship and his rare linguistic abilities led him to edit and translate primary texts from the biblical, classical, medieval, reformation and modern periods and to build bridges between communities in Eastern and Western Europe.

In 1942 at the age of 18, Pelikan graduated summa cum laude from Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Ind., and by 1946 had received both a bachelor of divinity from the Concordia Theological Seminary in Saint Louis and a doctorate from the University of Chicago. That same year he married Sylvia Pauline Burica, and they had three children. Pelikan taught at Valparaiso University in Indiana and Concordia Theological Seminary from 1949 to 1953, and at the University of Chicago until 1962. He then began a distinguished career at Yale University and in 1972 was appointed Sterling Professor of History, the highest academic honor at Yale. From 1973 to 1978, he served as dean of the graduate school there. Pelikan, who, with his list of books and articles, would seem to have had little time for the consideration of literature and music, has also built bridges from theology to the arts. An early example of this were his essays on Dostoevsky and Bach in the book "Fools for Christ," published in 1955.

Bach appeared again in a monograph titled "Bach Among the Theologians," and another of Pelikan's favorite characters was the subject of a book titled "Faust the Theologian." A further testimony to Pelikan's stature in bridging theology and the arts was made by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who appeared together with Pelikan at "Musical and Theological Reflections on Bach: Yo-Yo Ma and Jaroslav Pelikan in Concert," at the Congregational Church of Stockbridge on Aug. 8, 1992. Ma said that he considered Pelikan to be the scholar that he would want to have been.

As a teacher, Pelikan had a larger-than-life reputation, relating well both to specialized academic and general audiences. His mastery of so much primary literature enabled him to synthesize and interpret lengthy periods of intellectual history. As one of his former students said: "He teaches in a way that makes the listener feel intelligent; one feels that one is fully understanding (or perhaps discovering for oneself) the intricacies of the argument." His lectures were immensely popular at Yale, and his Gifford Lectures, published in 1993 under the title of "Christianity and Classical Culture," are a cornerstone of his vast contributions.

Pelikan was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994-97), founding chairman for the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress (1980-83; 1988-94) and chairman of the board of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. He was a scholar at the Library's Kluge Center for one year, holding the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the North. At the age of 80, he accepted the position of scholarly director for the "Institutions of Democracy Project" at the Annenberg Foundation.

Pelikan's greatest contribution, "The Christian Tradition: A History and Development of Doctrine," published in five volumes between 1971 and 1989, has surpassed Adolf Harnack's "Dogmengeschichte" (4th edition in 1910) both in breadth and interpretive sensitivity; and, it has produced an incomparable historical account of the emergence and development of Christian doctrine in the English language. In that work, he demonstrated that the Christian tradition is expressed in the community's own teaching and worship rather than in what individual theologians wrote.

Pelikan single-handedly brought the Eastern or Orthodox tradition into the hitherto largely Western story of Christian tradition. The Orthodox tradition (from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 through the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and into its Greek and Russian continuations) had been largely ignored or disparaged by those who saw Byzantine Christianity as a failure of intellectual creativity. In this and other respects, Pelikan recognizes the significance of ignored and unstudied aspects of history.

One scholar notes that Pelikan "provides a supremely effective antidote to the temptation to murder our own past." As reported by U.S. News and World Report (July 26, 1989) and subsequently widely quoted, Pelikan states: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is how we have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition."

Pelikan's motto, which comes from Goethe's "Faust" is: "What you have received as an inheritance from your fathers, you must possess again in order to make it your own."

In commemorating Pelikan's contributions with an honorary doctorate of laws at Harvard University in 1998, the citation aptly reads: "Your vast scholarship has brought us an enriched and broadened knowledge of our culture at the same time it has made you the foremost historian of Christian thought. Your magisterial inquiry into the theological history of Christianity in its Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant dimensions has immeasurably enriched our understanding of the range and profundity of the Christian tradition and illuminated the cultures for which that tradition provided religious and intellectual sustenance."

Paul Ricoeur

Paul RicoeurPaul Ricoeur is a philosopher who believes in the duty to explain and to comprehend, to understand questions such as: "What makes us human"? He insists on the centrality of interpretation for humanistic learning. Arguing against both the materialist and the idealist positions, he stresses active creative thought and its roles in memory, narrative, history, law, culture and belief. He rehabilitates the Western humanistic tradition as an interconnected fabric of meaning. In Ricoeur's own words, his insights "have to be painfully won on the field of battle of a reflection carried to its limits."

Now aged 91, Ricoeur purposefully questions in order to understand. Drawing upon both English-language analytical philosophy and 19th and 20th century European philosophy, Ricoeur presses for intelligible discourse -- for language that illuminates meaning and furthers explanation and understanding. For example, how is it meaningful to assert simultaneously that "I am a different person than I was 40 years ago" and yet "I am the same person"? "In what ways different and in what ways the same"? "What is the nature of personal identity"?

Ricoeur often conducts his exploration through the interrogation of the work of others through discussions, seminars or colloquia. He engages an extraordinary range of philosophers, writers, historians and legal theorists. In the case of those who have died, he explicates and interprets and extends their work, always explaining the links between imaginative language, including narrative and symbolic language, and reality as we live it.

"I believe in the efficacy of reflection," Ricoeur has said, "because I believe that man's greatness lies in the dialectic of work and the spoken word. Saying and doing, signifying and making, are intermingled to such an extent that it is impossible to set up a lasting and deep opposition between 'theoria' and 'praxis.' The word is my kingdom and I am not ashamed of it."

According to Ricoeur, language is crucial -- in the narrative of the historian, in the decision of the judge, in the imaginative creations of the great novelists -- because "man is language." "Through the capacity of language to create and re-create, we discover reality itself in the process of being created . Language in the making creates reality in the making." We create our sense of self through language; it is our work, our promise, which ensures our identity through time, although the physical self may change significantly.

Ricoeur explores polarities, issues where interpretive positions are at odds with each other, in order to "restore a complex unity." His refusal to let the polarities stand as the end of the matter demonstrates the importance of continual effort, the affirmation of humanistic inquiry: "to explain more in order to understand better." For instance, he explains the act of judging as "the fragile equilibrium between two elements of sharing."

Explaining further, Ricoeur says: "It is the just distance between partners who confront one another, too closely in cases of conflict and too distantly in those of ignorance, hate and scorn, that sums up rather well, I believe, the two aspects of the act of judging. On the one hand, to decide, to put an end to uncertainty, to separate the parties; on the other, to make each party recognize the share the other has in the same society, thanks to which the winner and the loser of any trial can be said to have their fair share in that model of cooperation that is society."

Paul Ricoeur was born in 1913 in Valence, a small city south of Lyons. His mother died when he was 7 months old, and his father was killed in 1915 in the Battle of Marne. Ricoeur and his older sister, his only sibling, were raised by paternal grandparents who were strict Protestants. His sister, always in frail health, died in 1932 of tuberculosis at the age of 22. Ricoeur married Simone Lejas, a close friend of his sister, and they had five children. Having done obligatory military service in 1935-36, Ricoeur was mobilized in September 1939. The next year he was captured by the Germans and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner in Pomerania. During these five years he helped create a camp "university" and worked out some of his basic philosophic ideas.

Ricoeur studied philosophy, first at the lycée in Rennes with Roland Dalbiez, a neo-Thomist who published on psychoanalysis, and then at the University of Rennes. He received a Licence-ès-Lettres in 1933. In 1934 he enrolled at the Sorbonne to study for the "agrégation." Once in Paris he began to attend the Friday gatherings held by the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, who introduced him to the philosopher Edmund Husserl. Having passed the "agrégation," Ricoeur became a professor of philosophy at the lycée in Colmar in Alsace. From 1935 to 1940, he began his prolific career as an author, arguing mostly for Christian socialism and pacifism. As the war approached, he became active in the SFIO (Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière) and pacifist movements under the influence of André Philip, a Protestant socialist intellectual.

In 1945 Ricoeur began his teaching career at the international Protestant College Cevenol (where he met American Quakers, who invited him to Haverford College 10 years later) and moved in 1948 to the University of Strasbourg. In 1956 he was appointed to the chair of general philosophy at the Sorbonne.

For the next decade Ricoeur wrote continuously as a professional philosopher ("Fallible Man," "The Symbolism of Evil," and "Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation.") He was also an activist, both against the French war in Algeria and as a reformer of the French university system. In 1967 he left the Sorbonne to assume the deanship of the new experimental university at Nanterre. Student and community disruption and unrest forced him to resign in 1969. He then taught for two years at Louvain in Belgium before moving to the United States, first to Yale and then to the University of Chicago. There he succeeded Paul Tillich as the John Nuveen Chair in the Divinity School and was jointly appointed to the Department of Philosophy and the Committee on Social Thought.

Ricoeur remained at the University of Chicago until 1991, writing during those years a number of key books: "The Living Metaphor" (1975); "Time and Narrative" (three volumes, 1983-1985); and "Oneself as Another" (1990), drawing upon the Gifford Lectures he delivered in 1986. Upon his return to France in 1991, Ricoeur has continued to write crucial studies extending his concerns into new fields: justice and law ("The Just," 1995); neuroscience ("What Makes Us Think," 1998); and a return to the study of time ("On Memory, History, and Forgetting," 2000).

As a younger colleague commented: "Ricoeur's profound insight is that a human being is a fallible yet capable creature always aiming at wholeness, a completion, never attainable in time. ... Our lot is to be an incomplete project. More exactly, human existence is always open both to the ever-present possibility of death and yet in imagination and hope to a horizon of meaning that exceeds finitude and death."

Ricoeur's continuing reflection across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences at a time of proliferating diversity of religious and cultural forms has rejuvenated philosophical discourse for the unending work of interpreting. "What do we mean by our use of language"? "What are the ethical consequences of the ways we conceive of ourselves and others"? This continuing examination of differing ways of thinking, which Ricoeur still undertakes "with the humility necessary to the pursuit of truth," is honored by the award of the Kluge Prize.

# # #

PR 04-200
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top