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The Library of Congress has awarded its annual John W. Kluge Prize in the Human Sciences to Yale University historian Jaroslav Pelikan (along with French philosopher Paul Ricoeur). The $1 million award focuses on those academic disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes and have only been awarded since 2003.

In 1990, historian Mark Noll of Wheaton College wrote a brief profile of Pelikan for Christianity Today. This year, Noll was also honored by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, serving as the Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in American History and Ethics.

The office of Jaroslav Pelikan holds few clues to explain what has made him what he is: perhaps the foremost living student of church history. In his old, high-ceilinged office, an open semicircular arrangement of chairs suggests friendliness and availability to students. On the wall is a painting of a pelican, and around the edges of the room are an old briefcase, cardboard boxes, and piles of books laid in convenient stacks. But telltale signs of hobbies or outside interests (like an old clarinet or a tennis racket in the corner) are absent. Two computers—one a laptop on his desk—are the only obvious concessions to modernity.

It is just as hard to tell much about the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from the way he looks. He wears standard-issue academic garb: a gray flannel jacket with a charcoal suede vest, and rubber-and-leather boots from L. L. Bean. He is congenial, and as he talks he makes occasional eye contact with his interviewers, but just as often peers at the ceiling and the book shelves around him as he swivels and rocks back and forth in his desk chair.

None of these things provide the key to Jaroslav Pelikan, for he is nothing ...

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December 2004

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