Edwin Scott Gaustad, a leading historian of American religious history during the twentieth century and into the early twenty-first, died Friday, March 25 in Sante Fe, New Mexico, at the age of eighty-seven. Gaustad was a member of the Baptist History & Heritage Society and the 2008 recipient of the Society’s W.O. Carver Distinguished Service Award.
Edwin S. Gaustad was a prolific author and one of the premier religious and Baptist historians during the twentieth century. His work influenced a new generation of Baptist historians. At a time when many Baptists in America turned their backs on their denomination’s freedom legacy, Gaustad clearly and consistently articulated Baptists’ historical foundations of religious liberty and church/state separation. Gaustad reminded Baptists and the world that the American commitment to religious liberty and church/state separation enshrined in the First Amendment was first articulated and put into practice by Roger Williams and other early Baptists. He dedicated his voice and pen to the preservation of the best of Baptist principles, and demonstrated time and time again that American history cannot be fully understood apart from inclusion of the religious dimension of the American story.
Gaustad’s primary area of focus was America’s colonial period, of which he wrote on the subjects of freedom of conscience, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and pluralism. His books include The Great Awakening in New England, Historical Atlas of Religion in America, A Religious History of America, Dissent in American Religion, Baptist Piety: Last Will and Testament of Obadiah Holmes, George Berkeley in America, Documentary History of Religion in America, Faith of the Founders, Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America, Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson, Church and State in America, and Benjamin Franklin. He also co-authored the textbook Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People.
A native Iowan, Gaustad grew up in Houston and taught at Shorter College (1953-57), the University of Redlands in California (1957-65), and the University of California at Riverside (1966-89). His wife of 63 years, Helen Virginia Morgan, preceded him in death in 2009. Survivors include three children, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Related stories about Gaustad’s death:
Associated Baptist Press (obituary)
American Baptist News Service (obituary)
Opinion: Edwin Scott Gaustad a Witness for Conscience (Bill Leonard)
Edwin Gaustad, Religious Historian, is Dead at 87 (New York Times)