Susan Keefe, Associate Professor of Church History, Dies

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Susan Keefe, an associate professor of church history at Duke Divinity School, died unexpectedly at her home this week. She was 58 years old.

“Susan was an outstanding historical scholar who did the thankless but essential work of painstakingly gathering, editing, and translating otherwise inaccessible primary sources from the medieval period,” said Richard Hays, dean of Duke Divinity School. “She was also a beloved teacher and colleague. Her gracious spirit and gentle wisdom will be greatly missed in our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Susan’s family and friends as they grieve the loss of their loved one and celebrate her life.”

Keefe received her doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Toronto in 1981. Before coming to Duke University in 1988, she taught at Harvard University, Davidson College, and the California Institute of Technology. She was a noted church historian, whose work focused on Carolingian texts on baptism and the creeds, especially as they related to the instruction of the clergy. She traveled extensively throughout Europe, visiting remote libraries, churches, and monasteries to study original manuscripts.

Her book, Water and the Word—Baptism and the Instruction of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire: A Study of Texts and Manuscripts, was recognized for its comprehensive study of previously unpublished manuscript materials. The Journal for Ecclesiastical History called the book “an essential tool” for the study of Carolingian manuscripts. The Medieval Review described Water and the Word as a book that “should be read by all liturgists, theologians and historians whose interests touch in the greatest intellectual and spiritual revival of the early Middle Ages.”

At the time of her death, Keefe had just completed work on a new book entitled Explanationes symboli aeui Carolini, a critical edition of unpublished Carolingian commentaries on the creed. Her teaching interests included Christian writers of the fourth through ninth centuries, as well as medieval spirituality and the writings of medieval women mystics.

The Divinity School held a memorial service honoring Keefe’s life on Friday, August 31, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. in Goodson Chapel. Expressions of condolence may be mailed to “The Family of Susan Keefe” c/o Mary Ann Andrus, Office of the Dean, Duke Divinity School, Box 90967, Durham, NC  27708.