Robert Coles, Superprof. So proclaimed U.S. News & World Report in its cover story celebrating Harvard’s 350th birthday. It is a title, however, that Coles himself would probably rue.
A surprisingly unimposing man for one whose accomplishments include a Pulitzer Prize and a Who’s Who entry longer than any we here have ever seen, Coles met with columnist Philip Yancey and associate editor Rodney Clapp in a Cambridge greasy spoon last spring (Bartlee’s Famous Hamburgers) to discuss an odyssey that found his intellectual arrogance set on end by 25 years of research and the simple faith of America’s poor.
“Nothing I discovered about the make-up of human beings contradicts in any way what I learn from the Hebrew prophets, and from Jesus and the lives of those he touched,” Coles told his visitors over burgers and black coffee. “Anything I can say as a result of my research into human behavior is a mere footnote to those lives in the Old and New Testament.”
That’s strong stuff from this ivy-covered hotbed of secularism—but it is material Coles has been “peddling” from his multiple academic platforms (he teaches in three colleges on campus), as well as from the pages of such respected journals as Harper’s and the Atlantic Monthly.
“It’s quite clear,” Coles once told a reporter for the Washington Post, “that I’m a religious freak. What else do you do when you get old and stop and think about what life is all about?”
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