March 4, 2020

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

I am saddened to share with you the news that Dr. Charles H. Long, Professor Emeritus of our Department of Religious Studies and former Director of our Center for Black Studies (now Center for Black Studies Research) passed away on February 12. Our hearts go out to his wife, Alice; their children, grandchildren, and extended family; and to the wide circle of colleagues, friends, and former students who were mentored and inspired by him. Our campus flag is lowered in his honor today, March 4.

Professor Long made a tremendous contribution to our academic community and our society, and his impact will be remembered always. I am honored to share this tribute from our Department of Religious Studies.


Charles H. Long (1926-2020)

"The Department of Religious Studies announces with sadness the passing of our former colleague, Professor Charles H. Long, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on February 12th at the age of 93. Professor Long was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and educated in the public schools there and in Dunbar Junior College. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces from 1944 to 1946 and subsequently matriculated at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he received a B.D. in 1953 and then, in 1962, a Ph.D. in the History of Religions, the Chicago study of comparative religions. Professor Long thereafter joined the Chicago Divinity School faculty where he became a formidable shaper of Chicago Religionswissenschaft (History of Religions). A legendary and charismatic teacher, from 1974 to 1987 he held an appointment as the William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of History of Religions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and, at the same time, Professor of Religion at Duke University. Later, he served as Jeannette K. Watson Professor of Religion at Syracuse University from 1988 to 1992 and from there, in 1992, came to the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB as Professor in the History of Religion and Director of the Center for Black Studies. He retired in 1996. Invited as a Visiting Professor at a series of institutions, he was an international figure and leader in the field.

Professor Long served as president of the American Academy of Religion, the largest and most prestigious professional society in the field, in 1973. He was a founding member of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and its president from 1987 to 1990, a member of the National Humanities Faculty, a founding editor of the journal History of Religions (1961), a member of numerous editorial boards, an editor of book series, a Guggenheim recipient as well as the recipient of a plethora of other honors, and an invited lecturer in many venues. His numerous doctoral students from the University of Chicago, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and UC Santa Barbara attest to his deep influence on the Religious Studies field, as do his large collection of interpretive articles spanning theory and method in the study of religion, American religion, African American religion in the United States, and a catch-all of other articles that function as sparks and embers for religious studies.

The author of three books, Professor Long was especially recognized for his Significations (1986), carrying as its subtitle Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion. With its riff on the African American verbal strategy of indirection that lives between the actual denotations and symbolic meanings of words, Significations explored how conventional categories of interpretation misdirect and obscure significant features of American religion and culture in a world of white supremacy with its colonial legacy. Professor Long’s message in this work and in all his work was that the structures of thought by which we shape and interpret religion and culture require a radical revision and reconstruction for all aspects of the field, not just for the study of African American religion as an add-on. So his de-centering perspective became a re-centering perspective that needed to take hold throughout the discipline, a perspective in which the periphery was no longer peripheral.  

Professor Long continued to be active in the field until his final days. He died surrounded by family, former students, and friends. His was a life full and well-lived, and his commitment to academic excellence will live on in the field."


Henry T. Yang