I am deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of Charles A. Ryerson (Shansi Representative to Madurai from 1955-58). Dr. Ryerson graduated from Oberlin College in 1955, and landed in Madurai, India soon after. In a time when Shansi was debating its presence in Madurai due to new governmental regulations, Dr. Ryerson renewed Shansi’s interest in being in Tamil Nadu and being connected with American College. For the next three years, as Dr. Ryerson noted, “It might seem paradoxical, but the deeper I led my students into English, the more I was drawn into Tamil culture.”
Dr. Ryerson (far left) with Joe and Joann Elder (Reps to India 1951-53), and Gail Baker (Rep to India 1955-58)
After his fellowship in southern India, Dr. Ryerson returned to the U.S. and obtained a Master of Divinity degree in 1961 from Union Theological Seminary, and later earned Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Columbia University. He was Professor of the History of Religions at Princeton Theological Seminary, and his career drew from his time spent in India as he taught classes and published extensively on Tamil culture and Hinduism. In 1995, he was awarded an honorary, “Doctorate of Divinity” by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology for his dedication to the Indian church and Indian higher education. When reflecting on his experience as a Shansi Rep at American College, Dr. Ryerson wrote, “The special English classes, however, were the core of my work and identity. My admiration for Principal Savarirayan and Bishop Newbigin has never waned. Their vision, and the loyalty and creativity of my students, are at the heart of my continuing affection for, and gratitude to, the American College. I learned the important lesson that teaching always involves learning.”
Dr. Ryerson’s unwavering enthusiasm for Tamil culture will be fondly remembered by his friends, colleagues, and admirers in Oberlin Shansi, American College, and the many students of Tamil culture he nurtured during his long career.