St. Olaf College Professor of Religion L. DeAne Lagerquist has been appointed the new Harold H. Ditmanson Chair of Religion.
The endowed chair, made possible by the Class of 1952, is appointed to a distinguished faculty member and scholar of the Lutheran tradition as exemplified by Ditmanson, the late St. Olaf religion professor the chair honors.
“Many of us took a class or two from Professor Ditmanson,” says Norm Midthun ’52, one of the major organizers behind the chair, who came to St. Olaf after serving in the Royal Norwegian Air Force during World War II.
“He was just so engaging, and helped us see how our individual experiences fit together with our faith and study. It was a time of great peace in my life.”
Ditmanson came to the Hill in 1946 and taught for 40 years at St. Olaf until his retirement in 1986. Through his scholarship, “Dit” was widely recognized for his work to advance the Christian-Jewish dialogue, especially Lutheran-Jewish dialogue in the United States and internationally.
As an educator and colleague, Ditmanson’s warmth, intellectual engagement, and humor infused his work. Many in the St. Olaf community credited him as having a unique ability to integrate intellectual and theological issues with literature, ethics, and history in such a way as to give credibility to the religious understanding. He assisted students in nurturing that understanding and interfaith comprehension of religious questions into a mature faith and life, enriched by the values of a liberal arts education.
Lagerquist joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1988, just after Ditmanson’s retirement. During her tenure she has engaged Oles in exploring how religion interacts with various aspects of culture.
Trained as a historian of Christianity, much of Lagerquist’s research has focused on Lutheran topics, including women’s organizations, higher education, and St. Olaf’s own Lars W. Boe and Gertrude Sovik, as well as developments in 20th century Christianity. She is the author of several works, including The Lutherans, which traces the larger history of Lutherans in the United States.
Lagerquist has led Global Semester as well as Interim programs studying sacred spaces in Turkey and Greece. She served three terms as chair of the St. Olaf Religion Department and five years as senior tutor of St. Olaf’s Paracollege. She was among the designers of the American Conversations program and is currently its director.
Lagerquist is using the funds provided by the Ditmanson Chair to investigate and help students explore the intersection of faith and culture — from investigating the role Flushing, New York, played as a birthplace of religious freedom to the role American religion plays in immigration. She will also support an exhibition in connection with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian.”
“Harold Ditmanson exemplified the interaction of careful scholarship and deep faith. The legacy of his teaching is evident especially in the lives of his students,” says Lagerquist. “I’m honored by this appointment and grateful for the resources it provides for exploring the religious dimensions of human life in my teaching and scholarship.”