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Nord, Longtime Head of Humanities Program, Dies at 63

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Warren A. Nord ’78 (PhD) — the founding director of UNC’s Program in the Humanities and Human Values who also was a proponent of religion as an essential part of high school and college studies — has died. He was 63.

Nord, who died June 19, ran the public humanities program for 25 years. During his tenure, the program sponsored more than 700 conferences, workshops and weekend seminars attended by more than 40,000 participants. The program is a unit of the College of Arts and Sciences. The GAA is a co-sponsor of the program’s Adventures in Idea Weekend Seminars.

While finishing his doctorate, Nord began working in the extension and continuing education program. The continuing education program and the College of Arts and Sciences were both looking for ways to offer public programs that drew on the humanities. The Humanities and Human Values program started in 1979 with Nord as its director, a position that he held until 2004.

Nord said in a recent autobiography that he never intended to become an administrator but found that it allowed him to conduct academic research in a variety of fields instead of specializing in one discipline. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the religion clauses of the First Amendment led him to discover that little sophisticated material existed on the topic of religion and education – so he decided to tackle the topic himself. Nord believed that an understanding of religion is required to think critically and to understand what’s right and wrong, he said in The Chapel Hill News in a 1995 interview. As he studied, he came to the conclusion that the decision to keep religion out of academic study in high schools and colleges needed to be challenged. It became his belief that religious study should be part of all academic study, that a true education – regardless of the subject – included learning about the religious aspects of that subject.

From 1981 until 2009, he taught philosophy of education and philosophy of religion at UNC. He published two books on his concept of the role of religion in education: Religion and American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma in 1995 and Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum in 1998.

After he was diagnosed with leukemia in fall 2009, he determined to finish two final books. One, Ten Essays on Good and Evil, was a gift to friends and colleagues. The other, Does God Make a Difference? Taking Religion Seriously in American Schools and Universities, will be published this fall by Oxford University Press.

Nord requested that his friend and colleague Charles Haynes, director of the religious freedom education project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., handle the final details of publication. In a recent e-mail interview with the Carolina Alumni Review, Haynes said he plans to host a conference on the book and responses to it in the near future and said there will be a special issue of the journal Religion and Education dedicated to the book.

“Warren was, in my view, the leading scholar on the role of religion in American education,” Haynes said.

Early on in his graduate studies, Nord was drafted into the Army and auditioned for the Army band. “This allowed me,” Nord said in his autobiography, “to go through the Army playing the trombone and baritone.”

Nord was elected to the Order of the Golden Fleece while a graduate student.

— Sally Walters


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