Robert Earl Cushman Papers, 1915, 1941-1988

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Cushman, Robert Earl
Robert Earl Cushman was a professor of systematic theology at Duke University, and was dean of the Divinity School from 1958-1971. He was involved internationally in issues related to the Methodist Church, ecumenism, and theological education. This collection contains correspondence, photographs, press clippings, meeting minutes and agendas, sermons, lectures, articles, publications, and other materials documenting his work within Duke Divinity School as well as his interactions with scholars and religious leaders worldwide. Files include records about internal business, courses, recruitment outreach, and student activism at Duke Divinity School; records about Cushman’s activities with the Association of Methodist Theological Schools, the World Council of Churches, and the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, where he was a Methodist observer during 1963-1965; writings, lectures and sermons; and personal materials.
25 Linear Feet
Materials are primarily in English. Some materials are in French, German, Hungarian, or Latin. Other materials may contain small amounts of Arabic, Greek, or Hebrew.
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates > 02 -- Individuals


Scope and content:

This collection documents the administrative, professional, and personal activities of Robert Earl Cushman, who was dean of the Duke Divinity School from 1958-1971. The collection is organized into four series. Series, subseries and file names are based on the creator’s original folder labels and groupings of material. Duke University administrative materials focus on the business of the divinity school, including Cushman’s correspondence with faculty, students and administration; school committee reports; clippings; and materials related to the curriculum, student admissions and student activism. Professional materials include correspondence with church leaders and with the heads of theological schools; the series also includes reports, bulletins, clippings, and correspondence documenting Methodist conferences and ecumenical activities in which Cushman participated, both in the United States and abroad, such as his experience in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. The writings series contains drafts and final copies of lectures, articles, and sermons; a bound copy of Cushman’s doctoral dissertation; files related to the Wesley Works project; bound copy of his doctoral dissertation about Plato and some clippings and research materials. Personal materials contains correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; as well as memorabilia, clippings, and miscellaneous documents, including one 1915 document from World War I. The collection contains photographs; an oversize blueprint of the proposed Divinity School renovation; and a recording of an address by King Hussein of Jordan.

Biographical / historical:

Robert Earl Cushman was born December 26, 1913, in Fall River, Mass. His father, Ralph, was a Methodist pastor and bishop. Robert Cushman graduated with his A.B. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in 1936; was ordained a Methodist minister, and received his doctorate from Yale University in 1942. He taught theology at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining the faculty of Duke Divinity School in 1945 as a professor of systematic theology. Cushman was appointed dean of the Divinity School in 1958 by Duke President Hollis Edens, succeeding former Divinity School Dean James Cannon. Cushman’s tenure as dean (1958-1971) included a physical expansion of the Divinity School as well as an intensive self-study of the school’s admission policies and course curriculum. He participated in the 1968 prayer service at Duke after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and examined how other social issues, including the Vietnam war, race relations, and the “hippie” movement, affected the values and behavior of incoming divinity students.

Cushman was involved internationally in issues related to the Methodist Church, ecumenism, and theological education. He was a Methodist observer at three sessions of the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church, in 1963, 1964, and 1965. Throughout his term as dean and in his professional life, he continually stressed the importance of a solid theological education for those being trained for the ministry. He took part in visitations of other theological schools; served on the General Conference of the Methodist Church and the World Council of Churches; and was involved in establishing The Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies in Tantur, near Jerusalem, which saw its first scholars take residence in 1971. The institute grew out of the ecumenical associations formed between Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians at the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). Cushman also lectured widely and published numerous articles, including the James A. Gray lectures on the Second Vatican Council (with Fr. Godfrey Leo Diekmann); co-edited a volume of essays in honor of theologian Robert Lowry Calhoun (Harper & Row, 1965); and published the book Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays Theological and Critical with Duke University Press (1981). In the 1960s and 1970s, he was an editor with the Wesley Works project with Oxford University Press, which was aimed at producing a comprehensive set of volumes on the works of John Wesley.

After a sabbatical following his resignation as dean, Cushman returned to full-time teaching in 1972 and retired in 1979, dividing his time between Durham and Maine. In 1980, the Robert E. Cushman Chair of Christian Theology was established at Duke Divinity School. In the early 1980s, Cushman continued to write, correspond with former students and colleagues, teach distance courses, and direct graduate students. He also took up painting, and preached memorial services for several friends, including Duke theology professor H. Shelton Smith and other former divinity school faculty members. Cushman died on June 8, 1993. He and his wife Barbara had three children, Robert Earl Cushman, Jr., Thomas, and Elizabeth.

Processing information:

Processed by: Erin Ryan, April 2017.

Finding aid derived from MARC record, November 2014.


This series is arranged into four series: Duke University Administrative Materials, Professional Activities, Writings, and Personal Materials.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Ecumenical movement
Education (Christian theology)
Methodist Church -- United States
Duke University. Divinity School
World Council of Churches
Vatican Council (2nd: 1962-1965: Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano)


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Records, such as search committee files or others pertaining to employment where individuals are identified, are closed for 70 years.

In accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 as amended, Duke University permits students to inspect their education records and limits the disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records.

Use of audio materials from this collection requires the creation of reference copies. Reference copies for some materials may have been made, and if a reference copy exists, it is noted in this finding aid. To arrange for the creation of reference copies of other items, please contact University Archives staff. Although these recordings are now stored in a stable environment, their condition and playback quality is unknown.

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Copyright for official university records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], in the Robert Earl Cushman Papers, 1915; 1941-1988, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.