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In Memoriam: the Rev. Dr. James E. Dittes

HAMDEN (08/31/2009) -- The Rev. Dr. James E. Dittes, who wrote about and taught the Psychology of Religion at Yale Divinity School for 47 years, died on August 24 after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease. He was 82.

Born in 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Mary Freeman Dittes and Mercein E. Dittes, he graduated from Oberlin College and served as a radio technician in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1952 he entered the Ph.D. program in Psychology at Yale University, beginning his teaching career there three years later. He became a full professor in 1968, and taught at both the Divinity School and in Yale's Department of Religious Studies. He served repeatedly as Chair of the Department and as Director of Graduate Studies.

"I remember Jim as a wonderful and prophetic teacher, a delightful colleague and a compassionate and funny human being," said Connecticut Conference Minister the Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree. "His book Bias and the Pious rattled the church at the time and his basic insights remain relevant today. We will miss him!"

"Jim was a teacher at heart," said his family. "His ability to push people to the edge of emotional comfort challenged them to expand their thinking and feeling."

Dr. Dittes published numerous articles and books, including Psychology and Religion: An Unfinished Dialogue, and Ministers on the Spot. He served as Executive Secretary, journal editor, and President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion; he held Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.

An enthusiastic traveler, he brought his family with him during sabbaticals during which they visited North Africa and every European nation except Finland. In the early 1950s he used jeep and donkey transport around the Middle East, and taught two years in a Turkish village.

He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Anne Hebert Smith, and by his first wife of 30 years, Frances S. Dittes; by his three daughters nancy Dittes of Branford; Carolyn Dittes of Actorn, MA; and Joanne Dittes Yepsen of Saratoga Springs, NY; and by 6 much-loved grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son Larry in 1959.

A service in celebration of James Dittes' life and ministry will be held at 2:00 pm on Sunday, Sept. 13, at the Yale Divinity School Marquand Chapel in New Haven. Contributions in lieu of flowers can be sent to the Connecticut Parkinson's Association ("Restrict for Research"), 27 Allendale Dr., North Haven, CT 06473; to the James E. Dittes Scholarship at Yale Divinity School; or to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, 205 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT 06511.

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