Obituary: Professor helped found Department of Religious Studies at McMaster

Professor Louis Greenspan is being remembered as a McMaster University scholar who was “an absolute delight to be around” and enjoyed learning just as much as his students.

Greenspan — who died at 83 on May 10 — came to McMaster from Ryerson in the mid-1960s at the behest of famous Canadian philosopher George Grant, and was a contemporary of the man known as a “careful thinker” and the author of “Lament for a Nation.”

Greenspan helped shape the Religious Studies Department at McMaster — the first of its kind in Canada — under the leadership of Grant and Dr. Paul Clifford. Founded in 1962, and first called the Department of Religion, it was separate from the Divinity College and was part of the Arts and Science faculty. It aimed to have students study and explore the meaning of religion to the human race.

Greenspan’s interest was the impact of Darwin, Marx and Freud on the philosophy of religion. He taught and conducted research on modern liberal thought, religion and secularism in the postwar period, and Jewish history in the Modern Age.

Greenspan taught hundreds of students during a 40-year career at McMaster, and counted as pupils such people as Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin. He lectured widely and wrote books and articles on such subjects as Grant and one called Quarrelling with God.

He obtained his PhD on Bertrand Russell through Brandeis University near Boston — while studying the Russell archives that came to McMaster in 1968 — and later served as managing editor and director of the Russell archives from 1986-1997.

Alisha Pomazon wrote on The United Hebrew Memorial Chapel website that Greenspan was “generous, kind, thoughtful and an absolute delight to be around. My favourite memories from Mac are of Dr. Greenspan and the time I spent as a TA. He taught us all every moment, and we are all better for it.”

Darren Dahl recalled completing his doctoral studies and doing a reading course with Greenspan.

“I made him read a lot of (French philosopher Jacques) Derrida, he made me read a lot of Marx, and then we talked for hours,” he wrote. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Greenspan was born in 1934 in a town outside Warsaw, Poland, the son of a rabbi and his wife. Through his mother’s family in the Maritimes, his father got the posting of a rabbi in Halifax and the family came to Canada in 1935. Greenspan went to Dalhousie for his undergraduate degree and later obtained his master’s from Columbia University in New York City.