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Adele S. Bonney

Franklin Littell '37 (left) and Victor Furnish '52 (right) are prominent theological scholars.

Many years of dedicated labor can be supported by what students gain from Cornell, if the record of Franklin Littell ’37 or Victor Furnish ’52 is any indication. The eldest son of Clair “Judge” Littell, legendary Cornell professor of history and political science and an ordained Methodist minister, Franklin Littell has been prominent in ecumenical and interfaith activities for more than 50 years. His life’s work is the advancement of religious liberty and the exposure of persecution. He served 10 years in the American occupation of post-war Germany (receiving an award from the president of the German Federal Republic for his work in American-German reconciliation) and is a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. He holds advanced degrees from Union Theological Seminary and Yale University and was once president of Iowa Wesleyan College, a Methodist-affiliated institution. A retired Temple University religion professor and Methodist minister, he is the author of more than two dozen books and nearly 300 major articles.

Victor Furnish, also the son of a Methodist minister, was a young man (of only 16) already deeply involved in the institutional church when he arrived at Cornell and discovered activities that sustained the faith commitments he came with—including the Cornell Student Fellowship, an ecumenical student group, and the Oxford Fellowship, the pre-ministry students’ organization. His classes, meanwhile, “added a historical/cultural perspective to my religious commitments,” Furnish recalls, “and I learned that faith wasn’t just a matter of feeling but of thought that involved intelligence and knowledge.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum allowed this philosophy major to be involved in music and inspired and supported his early interest in research and his growing attraction to an academic rather than pastoral career. He chose to attend seminary but with a focus on scholarly work, and by his second year had made several consequential decisions: to pursue a PhD at Yale and delve into New Testament studies.

From his position as University Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, Furnish can now look back on a record of scholarly work that includes seven books, innumerable articles and reviews, and contributions to many Bible dictionaries and theological volumes. When he retires in a year he plans to write a book on Paul, developing a comprehensive presentation of Pauline theology completely different from the traditional scholarly approach, which will draw yet again on that interdisciplinary perspective the eager undergraduate developed long ago.

SMU, Cornell, professional organizations, and his students have all bestowed honors and awards on this Biblical scholar, although with characteristic modesty, he says, “I’m amazed at every one!” Being asked to serve as the 1993 president of the Society of Biblical Literature, a century-old organization with 7,000 members, was a highlight, but the emotion in his voice is clear when he says the honorary doctorate conferred on him by Cornell also stands out.

Furnish speaks for many when he says, “Cornell College has been so much a part of my persona, I can’t imagine I would have been who I am without that experience.”

Adele S. Bonney lives and writes in Iowa City.

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