Perry, Edmund F.
Theologian Edmund Franklin Perry was born in Chickamauga, Georgia on May 18, 1923. He earned his PhD from Northwestern University in 1950, returning to the University in 1954 as a professor in the Department of History and the Literature of Religions. Perry specialized in comparative religions and was known as a key figure in interfaith relations, especially for his work promoting dialogue between the Christian and Buddhist faiths. His own academic work focused on the growing field of world and comparative religions. Perry retired in 1992 and died in 1998.
Perry was the son of James McDaniel Perry, a Methodist minister, and Rubye (Griffin) Perry. Perry grew up in Chickamauga and graduated from Marietta High School in 1940. He attended Reinhardt Junior College, graduating in 1942. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia in 1944, and in 1946 received his B.D. from Emory University, where he was a National Methodist Scholar. He married Lena Bowers in 1946, and they had three sons: Edmund, Philip and Peter.
In 1945 Perry was admitted, on trial, to the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was ordained a deacon in 1946 and an elder in 1948. He served various congregations in Georgia from 1942 through 1946. He was also Director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia State College for Women in Milledgville, Georgia from 1946 through 1948.
Perry came to Northwestern to attend Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1948 and began work as a doctoral student at Northwestern University in biblical theology in 1949. He received his PhD from the University in 1950. He taught at Duke University from 1950 to 1954 and then returned to Northwestern, where he served as Associate Professor in the Department of the History and Literature of Religions (later changed to the Department of Religions) from 1954 to 1960. In 1960 he was named Full Professor and served in that capacity until his retirement as Emeritus Professor in 1992. He chaired the department from 1954 until 1975 and again from 1978 through 1981.
Perry specialized in comparative religions and was known as a key figure in interfaith relations, especially for his work promoting dialogue between the Christian and Buddhist faiths. His own academic work focused on the growing field of world and comparative religions. His books included: Jews and Christians: Preparation for Dialogue (1965); Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula (1980); World Theology: The Central Spiritual Reality of Mankind (1991). He also published numerous articles on the subject.
During 1967-1968 Perry was Fulbright Professor in Comparative Religion at Vidyodaya University in Ceylon. He received an honorary degree from this University (now the University of Sri Lanka), becoming the first American to be so honored. The courses he taught and the students he directed and supported also reflected his interest in comparative religions. He directed many dissertations in the field and was frequently sought after as a speaker on campus and throughout the academic community on the subject. He was known for his comparative religion courses and for his teaching abilities, receiving several awards for teaching throughout his many years at Northwestern. Perry also worked hard to make the Department of Religion's comparative religions program a leader in the field, corresponding with religious leaders from around the world and strongly advocating the growth of the program on campus. Perry was instrumental in bringing Walpola Rahula, a Buddhist monk and scholar, to the University. Rahula was the first Buddhist monk ever to hold a professorship at a university in the Western world.
Perry was a member of many professional organizations including the American Theological Society; the American Society for the Study of Religions; the National Council of Churches; and the Society for Buddhist-Christian Friends. In his capacity as an ordained minister of the Methodist Church, Perry performed many ecclesiastical functions, including weddings and baptisms, and served on various boards and committees of the Church.
Edmund Perry died on December 14, 1998.