Honorary Degree Citation - Gregory Gerhard Baum

by Marguerite Mendell, November 2002

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Dr. Gregory Gerhard Baum, professor emeritus of McGill University's Faculty of Religious Studies and one of Canada's leading contemporary theologians.

For more than 40 years, Gregory Baum has been an important contributor to the understanding of religion and spirituality in the context of modern human experiences. Born in Germany in 1923, ethnically Jewish but with secular roots, he escaped from the Nazi regime to England in 1940. Two years later, he arrived in Canada. He earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1946; and a master's degree in mathematics from Ohio State University the following year. From mathematical abstraction his academic interests turned to Christian theology. He pursued this at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he received a doctorate in 1956.

Dr. Baum became a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College in 1959. He rose to prominence during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, as a theologian on the Secretariat of Christian Unity, which was pivotal to opening the Catholic Church to the ecumenical movement and fostering a new openness to the world religions. In 1962, he became editor of The Ecumenist, a lively critical review of theology, culture and society, which continues to thrive under his guidance. During his 27-year tenure at St. Michael's College, Dr. Baum's deep social concern and determination to effect positive change in contemporary existence led to his pursuit of graduate studies in sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York City, completed in 1971. In 1986, Dr. Baum came to Montreal, and was professor of religious studies at McGill University until 1995, when he was appointed professor emeritus of the Faculty of Religious Studies.

Dr. Baum is the author of more than 20 books and numerous notable and groundbreaking works that have focused not only on the contemplative dimension of religion, but its social and political dimensions as well. An Officer of the Order of Canada, he has also received honorary degrees from universities across North America in recognition of his lifelong achievements.

For nearly half a century, through the lens of his own faith, Dr. Baum has expressed deep and active concern for the whole spectrum of humankind, and particularly for the poor and oppressed. A leading contemporary religious thinker, philosopher and social ethicist, he has been credited with rattling the stained glass windows of the Roman Catholic Church and propelling it towards a new perspective and approach to the problems of modern society. Religion, an important source of individual and collective strength and identity, also faces major challenges in these global times of tension and conflict. Through his faith in the peaceful co-existence of world religions, sustained by a common spirituality rooted in social justice, Dr. Baum has fostered important inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, theological reflection, and a new religious sensitivity for meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you, Dr. Gregory Baum, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.