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Dr. George M. Williams
California State University, Chico
Department of Religious Studies
Chico, CA. 95929
916-898-5661 (office)
georgew@mail.csuchico.edu
Co-Director
Center for Free Religion
1012 Bryant Ave.
Chico, CA. 59526

George Williams was born in Bristol, Virginia, the son of a Southern Baptist minister. His family moved to Utah when he was ten so that his father could do "home mission" work among the Mormons. He graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1962 and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1965, having spent his middle year in the International Baptist Seminary, Ruschlikon, Switzerland. But with five years of Greek, two of Hebrew and a year of Aramaic, he had become too liberal. He began graduate studies in American intellectual and religious history under Prof. Sidney Mead but later switched to the history of religions, completing all the course work for both programs.

Williams was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1972, specializing in religion in modern India. Williams taught one year at Newton College of the Sacred Heart, Boston, before going to California State University, Chico, in the fall of 1972, joining their newly formed Department of Religious Studies.

Williams principally taught courses on Asian religions for twenty-seven years. In 1997 he began an early retirement program (FERP) which allowed teaching one semester a year for five years. His major interest for the past two decades has been in religions that liberate and in liberal religion. His publications include Svâmî Vivekânanda: A Study in Religious Change (1974) and Liberal Religious Reformation in Japan (1984). He has written numerous journal articles on religion in modern India and Japan, including a dozen chapters in edited volumes about Vivekânanda and the Ramakrishna Mission as well as essays on Lay Buddhism in Japan like "The Bodhisattva Way of Peace," which appeared in Studia Missionalia (Vol.38, 1989). He has also contributed to encyclopedias on topics about religion in Asia.

He has given guest lectures at a number of universities and seminaries in the U.S. (including Harvard), Canada (at McGill University, Montreal, as a Distinguished Scholar), India, Japan, Hungary and Romania. He has lectured on liberal religion before religious groups, such as the keynote address on Swami Vivekânanda and the activity of the Ramakrishna Mission in the United States at the Vedanta Society's annual retreat near Chicago in August, 1988. In 1992 with his wife (Dr. Judit Gellérd as translator) he taught a model course in the academic study of religion at József Attila University, Szeged, Hungary, which according to the American Academy of Religion may have been the first non-confessional or non-ideological course in an East European university. This course was condensed into three weeks--the maximum amount of time that his university would allow him to purchase himself away from the classroom without loosing a semester of retirement credit--but that happened anyway. He and his wife, Judit Gellerd, were invited back for the fall of 1993 to both Szeged and Pecs, another state university in southern Hungary. Having received a sabbatical, the time was spent offering courses in Asian religions, training faculty about the teaching of religion academically, and writing a text on the introduction of Asian Religions which would be published by Jalenkor Press in Hungarian.


Dr. Shinichiro Imaoka and Williams, 1982

In 1984 Williams founded the Center for Free Religion in honor of Rev. Shinichiro Imaoka to study and promote liberating religion. It became the coordinating center for Unitarian Universalist work with Transylvanian Unitarianism after Judit Gellérd joined as its co-director in 1989. In 1983 Williams was chosen as one of the Western scholars to help with the World Congress in Japan. He was the coordinator for Western working groups for that Congress. In 1986 he finished a film on Rissho Kosei-kai. In 1988 he finished a video on Dr. Shinichiro Imaoka, Japanese Unitarian and apostle of Free Religion. The American Chapter of the IARF presented its 1989 Distinguished Service Award to Williams for his contributions toward interreligious cooperation and understanding.

During that period he lectured and presented different mediated programs at numerous IARF and UUA General Assembly

events on liberal religion in India and Japan. Williams has been active in Collegium, the association for the study of liberal religion, having been its chair, 1989-1991, as well as the chair of the history section.

In 1989 the UU Grants Panel awarded Dr. Williams and his wife, Dr. Judit Gellérd, a grant for translation and publication of four books into English from Hungarian. During the summer of 1989 Dr. Williams and his wife, Dr. Judit Gellérd (a psychiatrist), went to Romania and investigated the charges of religious and minority persecution there before the revolution against Ceausescu. During the summer of 1990 they returned to Transylvania conducting psychotherapy workshops, teaching pastoral counseling and working for interreligious and multicultural understanding. They founded the Gellérd Imre Foundation in Budapest with a free press, which was moved to Romania in 1992. For the past few years Williams and Gellérd have chaired panels and presentations on "Unitarianism in Transylvania" at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

Williams has worked for nearly two decades on understanding liberal Buddhist and Shinto groups in Japan, traveling there over twenty times and producing one 16mm film on "The Bodhisattva Way of Peace: Lay Buddhism in Japan," two more videos on Japanese Buddhism, a videotape on "Shinichiro Imaoka: Emerson of Japan," and a video series on Shinto rituals and practices (learning modules for the classroom). He worked with Rev. Shigeru Handa of Nagoya, on a Shinto digital dictionary--a 500 megabyte, color, multimedia CD ROM learning program, which was the first electronic publication of Scholars Press of the American Academy of Religion. He is a member of the committee on electronic publication for the American Academy of Religion. He was part of the editoral team that helped publish in English Rev. Yukitaka Yamamoto's book, Kami no Michi (Way of the Kami) in 1987.

In the summer of 1993 he received a National Endowment for the Humanities summer teaching grant at the University of Hawaii to study religion and material culture. In 1992 Williams negotiated an agreement with the Romanian Academy of Science which opened the largest rare manuscripts library on the Radical Reformation to scholarly use. Williams was asked to attempt this by the Renaissance and Reformation faculty of the University of Szeged and the Hungarian Academy of Science. Then he worked on a seven year project with both institutions to catalog all these materials and publish the entire catalog in both hard bound and CD ROM versions. In 1999 Williams returned to Romania and taught both teams from Szeged and Kolozsvár the latest methods in digitizing their rare manuscript, supplying equipment with an American grant.

During the winter intercession of 1995/6, Williams and his wife traveled to Nepal and Thailand videotaping materials to illustrate how Buddhism and Hinduism address the twenty or so existential crises of life. Thirty-six hours of raw video were shot and fifteen rolls of slide film or 540 slides. A series of videos have been produced including "The Royal Kumari of Nepal" and "Kali Puja and Animal Sacrifice." At the same time, Williams founded the Hindu Studies Review, a electronic journal on the Wide World Web, with Prof. Arvind Sharma as co-editor. Hindu Studies Review is housed on the Religious Studies web page at CSUC.

Using the new freedom of the partial retirement program, Williams accepted two appointments to the Sir Ashutosh Mukerjee Chair Visiting Professor at the National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, India for several months each in 1997 and 1998. The projects on manuscript preservation received national recognition and earned a citation by the President of India. NIAS has won two digitizing grants for the most difficult to preserve manuscripts, utilizing the methods developed by Williams. It has also made a standing offer that he can hold the Mukerjee Chair any time he wishes. In the spring of 1998 Williams taught a semester course, "Comparative World Religions," at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. In 2000 Williams spend the entire spring semester in India working on digitizing the entire corpus of work of Raja Rammohan Roy, the great Hindu reformer. This work is being continued in 2001 and will result in a video and a book on Roy. This project is providing close contact with the Brahmo Samaj and its institutions and is yielding insight into its successes and failures as India's oldest force for religious reform.

Williams showing his project on archiving and digitizing ancient Indian manuscripts to the President of India at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. He was appointed twice to the Mukerjee chair at NIAS.

In May 1994 Starr King School for the Ministry awarded Prof. Williams and his wife, Dr. Judit Gellérd, separate honorary doctorates. Williams was awarded the Litterarum Humanarum Doctor. In October, 1996, Williams was presented the award of Doctor Honoris Causa from the United Protestant Seminary of Cluj [Kolozsvar], Romania.