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Sharing Pitt Memories

Namaste, Religious Studies Department!


Jen Gittings-Dalton (A&S ’83):

Dr. Fred Clothe and his colleagues in the Religious Studies Department—but especially Dr. Clothe—were responsible for lifetime memories and my most intense learning at Pitt.

I remember the elevator ascending 26 floors to their department offices, and then the wind whistling in through the open windows. In “Introduction to Death and Dying,” Dr. Clothe sent us immortal 20-year-old students to the Pittsburgh morgue to confront the reality of death; in “Phenomonology of Religion,” he shared with us the insights of the greats Mircea Eliade and Theodore Gaster, both of whom he'd studied with; and most of all he shared his extensive understanding and life experience of the religions of Asia. He was the perfect mentor for me, a child of Third World missionaries struggling to integrate my disparate cultural experiences into an American identity and vocation. Dr. Clothe singlehandedly awoke in me a passion for the anthropology of religion.

I decided to study abroad in India, and for months Dr. Clothe and I met to go over a gigantic reading list which included the Vedas, anthropological studies, and heavy tomes on topics I could not have known existed. I remember him asking me matter-of-factly if I was going to take up Sanskrit, since it would be necessary for graduate school. Alas, I didn't know then that graduate studies in religious studies could and would lead to a job, and took a separate path! But my nascent scholarly self was quite honored that he thought I had the potential to join his field.

He and his colleague James Bratt opened worlds to me. Dr. Clothe helped me prepare for a study of land rituals in India, and then helped me integrate that experience upon my return to the U.S. through independent study. Dr. Bratt opened his home to the small group of religious studies students at Pitt, and held dinner discussions at his house. These profound teachers and the material they guided me through remain the best part of my education at Pitt and changed my life.

Dr. Clothe, wherever you are, I cannot thank you enough. Namaste, shalom, and vaya con Dios!