Fond farewell: John Bash, retired professor emeritus of religious studies


Emeritus Professor John Bash, who taught religious studies for nearly 30 years, died Aug. 15. He was 90 years old.

Born August 10, 1932, Bash was born in central Pennsylvania and grew up in a small mining town as an only child. One of the few students in his high school class who went to college, he supported himself during his undergraduate years by delivering mail, doing road construction, and even baking pies for a restaurant. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Albright College, followed by a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s and doctoral degree in religious studies from Yale University.

Bash spent the early years of his career teaching at Yale, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was hired as a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Chico State in 1968, then transferred a few years later to the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities, where he remained for nearly 30 years, helping to make the department what that he is today.

Bash was well known as an enthusiastic and conscientious instructor of Eastern and Western religions. His courses not only informed students about various religions and philosophies, but sought to engage them in reflection on the fundamental questions of human existence.

“He was one of my favorite instructors at Chico State,” said alumnus Kim Olsen (Religious Studies, ’85; Credential, ’91). “He was always available during office hours and we would chat about things like Tibet, hiking, mountaineering and our ideas about the writings of Peter Mathieson and the photography of Galen Rowell. He always took a personal interest in his students and even organized meetings at his home in Chico to which his students were invited.

Infinitely curious and passionate about expanding his understanding of the world by exploring diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs, Bash has acted as a visiting professor at various institutions throughout his career, including the Semester at Sea program at the University of Pittsburgh in which 500 students and 28 faculty members circumnavigated the globe in 105 days with five-day stays at 10 ports. After retiring in 1995, Bash continued to teach at the University of Arizona’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Bash had a long list of accomplishments during his tenure at Chico State, including holding local and statewide offices with the California Faculty Association; receiving the University’s Meritorious Achievement Award and Excellence in Teaching Award; become an honorary member of the Chico State Chapter of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society in recognition of outstanding teaching; and being the director of the University’s study abroad program, accompanying students to destinations such as East Africa, New Zealand and China.

Alongside the former students he profoundly influenced, many colleagues share deep gratitude for his mentorship and contributions. He guided many, helping to build the Department of Religion and Comparative Humanities into a community of generous scholars who shared ideas and supported each other.

“John’s loss will be felt by so many of us at Chico State,” said professor emeritus Joel Zimbelman. “I really counted John as a friend – he was a wise, calculating and pragmatic listener and adviser who pointed me in the right direction many times. Many of the books he recommended are still on my shelf, and the ideas we discussed are still on the old pages of my class notes.

For Emeritus Professor Bruce Grelle, Bash was a kind and caring mentor who helped him and other junior faculty members navigate the staff process and establish themselves early in their careers.

“Bash was more than a charismatic and memorable teacher — he was a good friend and colleague on campus,” Grelle said. “I especially remember his wise sense of humor and his mischievous smile.”

Beyond academia, Bash was known as an avid world traveler with a lifelong love of hiking. While at Yale, he roamed the mountains of Maine; while in Colorado he climbed the Rocky Mountains; and while at Chico State, he went on a climbing expedition in the Himalayas of Nepal with a friend who also worked at the university. Bash ended up touring Nepal six times to visit seven major Buddhist monasteries near Mount Everest – each time he had to arrive by helicopter and hire a guide, a cook and porters with yaks to transport the supplies.

Bash is survived by his two daughters and his wife, Carol, whom he met in 1990 after being set up by his secretary. After his retirement, they settled in Green Valley, Arizona, and between them they have traveled to more than 200 destinations around the world.

The University flag will be lowered on Wednesday, October 19 in his memory.


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