April 27, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 15

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    University Press honors the Divinity School’s Ricoeur with Laing Prize

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    Paul Ricoeur[paul ricoeur] by carolyn ulrich, the John Nuveen Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School and one of the world’s leading philosophers, has won the 1999 Gordon J. Laing Award, a prize conferred annually to recognize a faculty author, editor or translator of a book published during the preceding three years that adds the greatest distinction to the list of the University of Chicago Press.

    During a ceremony and reception at the Quadrangle Club on Thursday, April 20, Ricoeur was announced as the recipient of this year’s prize in recognition of Thinking Biblically, which he co-authored with the distinguished biblical scholar André LaCocque, professor emeritus at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Ricoeur, who also received the Laing Award in 1985 for Time and Narrative, Volume I, is only the second University faculty member to win the prestigious award twice in its 36-year history. Marshall Sahlins, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Anthropology, received the award in 1977 and 1997.

    The Laing Award is named for Gordon J. Laing, who served as general editor of the Press from 1909 to 1940 and helped to establish its reputation as the premier scholarly publisher in the United States.

    Thinking Biblically sets alternating essays by Ricoeur and LaCocque in dialogue around six crucial passages from the Old Testament. LaCocque’s commentaries employ a historical-critical method that takes into account archaeological, philological and historical research. Ricoeur’s essays broaden the scope of the exegesis to include philosophical reflection.

    In a statement delivered at the Laing reception by his longtime friend and translator David Pellauer, Ricoeur, who was unable to attend the event, expressed his thanks to the Board of University Publications, an interdisciplinary body of faculty members from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Biological and Physical Sciences divisions that awards the prize each year.

    “I especially want to thank the Board for having chosen a book titled Thinking Biblically,” wrote Ricoeur. “My own wager as a philosopher in approaching such materials has been that the literary genres at work in both the Jewish and Christian scriptures––whether they be those of narratives, laws, prophecies, psalms of lament or praise, hymns or wisdom sayings––are all distinct kinds of meaningful discourse in their own right that can also give rise to philosophical thought,” his statement continued. “I am grateful that the Board has so kindly chosen to acknowledge the results with the Laing prize.”

    Perhaps best-known for his phenomenological hermeneutics and theory of narrative, Ricoeur, who currently lives in Paris, is the author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles. After being presented with an honorary Ph.D. in divinity by the University in 1967, Ricoeur, who was then professor of philosophy at the University of Paris, joined the faculty at the Divinity School in 1971.

    “What has always struck me about Ricoeur is that he has always known so well the problems he wishes to address,” said Don Browning, the Alexander Campbell Professor in the Divinity School. “No one I’m aware of in the 20th century has had a clearer focus on a single question––the question of the will and selfhood,” continued Browning, “and no one else in 20th century has understood so well as Ricoeur precisely how many sub-questions one has to raise in order to address it well.”

    The Divinity School honored Ricoeur during his last visit in October 1999 with a student-organized international symposium titled Ethics and Meaning in Public Life: A Conference on Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought. The event included presentations by Ricoeur’s colleagues at the University and scholars from around the world.

    He is expected to return to Chicago in May to attend the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Society, where he will receive the Oskar Pfister Award for his contributions to the study of religion and psychiatry.