Historian Edwin Gaustad dies at 87

March 29, 2011

SANTA FE, N.M. (ABP) -- Prolific author, influential historian and
lifelong Baptist Edwin Gaustad died Friday, March 25, in Santa Fe, N.M.
He was 87.

Gaustad, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at the
University of California-Riverside, was one of America's leading experts
on America's colonial period, particularly in areas of religious
liberty, pluralism and dissent.

His books include A Religious History of America, Dissent in
American Religion, Baptist Piety: Last Will and Testament of Obadiah
Holmes, Faith of the Founders
and Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America.

In 2002 Gaustad was an expert witness in the widely publicized trial
brought by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
and other groups against Montgomery, Ala., judge Roy Moore, who refused
to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse.

Bruce Gourley, executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage
Society, described Gaustad as "one of the premier religious and Baptist
historians during the 20th century."

Gourley said Gaustad's work influenced a generation of Baptist
historians, at a time when many conservative Baptists questioned
long-defended principles like the separation of church and state.

"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," Gourley said. "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."

Deborah Bingham Van Broekhoven, executive director of the American Baptist Historical Society, called
Gaustad's death a great loss "to his family, the scholarly community,
Baptists, and to those who understand the fight for separation of church
and state still goes on in our society and in other parts of the

Gaustad was born in Iowa but grew up Houston. After military service he
graduated from Baylor University in 1947 and completed his graduate work
at Brown University in 1951. His teaching career took him from Shorter
College in Rome, Ga. (1953-57), to the University of Redlands in
California (1957-65) and finally to the University of California at
Riverside, where he remained until retiring in 1989, when he was named
professor emeritus. He was also visiting professor at Baylor University
(1978), University of Richmond (1987), Princeton Seminary (1991-92) and
Auburn University (1993).

Gaustad was married for 63 years to Helen Virginia Morgan, who died in
2009. Survivors include three children, four grandchildren and one great

A memorial service is scheduled for May 1 in Santa Fe. The family requests that memorial gifts be given to the American Baptist Historical Society in Atlanta.