Ralph Harper, a theologian, philosopher and longtime adjunct
faculty member in the School of Continuing Studies' Master of
Liberal Arts program, died May 24 in Towson, Md., from a brain
tumor. He was 80.
Most scholars agree that Harper introduced European existentialism to the United States with his first book Existentialism: A Theory of Man in 1948. In this, and in his subsequent books, he tried to resolve the fundamental idea of man's aloneness and alienation, reaching further with each effort and covering subjects as diverse as Sleeping Beauty, the thriller, nostalgia and human love.
Harper seemed to come to some conclusions with his 1992 book On Presence: Variations and Reflections. In it, he argued that we are not alone, not isolated in our existence. Instead, our existence is affirmed by presence, a multilayered feeling of connection with one's self and others. The book was awarded the $150,000 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion in 1992. He also was twice named a Guggenheim Fellow.
Harper pursued this idea of presence through more than 45 courses in humanistic studies taught at Hopkins since 1960. "The students thought he was wonderful," said Nancy Norris, director of the Master of Liberal Arts program. "Each class was different, and each one was fresh and interesting and well received."
Harper, who was born in Winthrop, Mass., received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1937, studied philosophy and theology at Oxford and Fribourg universities and held academic positions at Harvard, St. Johns College in Annapolis, Md., and Bard College, in addition to Hopkins. He also served as rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Monkton, Md., from 1959 to 1980.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Rita, sons Andrew and David, a brother, John, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned.
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