USAO News Bureau

Shafer dies, leaves legacy of scholarship, tolerance

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dr. Ingrid Shafer, professor emerita of philosophy and religion at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, died March 5 in her son’s home, surrounded by family after a short illness.

She was 74.

USAO President John Feaver described Shafer as “a close personal friend.”

“Ingrid was really married to this college -- by her love for the institution and its mission and for what she did here,” Feaver said. “I’m sorry in her passing but I don’t feel sorry for her. She lived an extraordinarily full and productive life, dedicating herself to teaching and scholarship.”

A memorial service in Shafer’s honor is scheduled for 3 p.m. on September 6 in the Alumni Chapel.

A special scholarship fund has been established in her name through the USAO Foundation.

Born in Austria in 1939, Shafer’s childhood was marred by the Nazi occupation and, later, by the haunting images of the Holocaust but laid the foundation for a life dedicated to fostering understanding and social justice.

Shafer began her studies in literature, painting and philosophy in Austria but came to the United States to visit the family of a friend she had met during the Allied occupation. This visit proved more permanent than she had anticipated as she married and gave birth to two children, Henry and Irene.

Shafer continued her studies at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1960s, completing her master of arts in German literature in 1967.

She joined the faculty of the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (OCLA) in 1968 at a pivotal time in that institution’s history. In 1965, the college had transitioned to co-educational and received a new mandate from the state to deliver a unique liberal arts undergraduate experience to students in Oklahoma’s higher education system.

Shafer became one of the key architects of the school’s pioneering interdisciplinary studies (IDS) program that put students into the classroom with two or more instructors from different disciplines throughout the broad core curriculum.

Dr. Dex Marble, vice president of academic affairs, recalls meeting Shafer for the first time in 1972.

“Ingrid, who was Ingrid Poole at that time, was just remarkable,” Marble said. “Her experience, her knowledge was encyclopedic. Her expertise stretched from philosophy to painting to religion to music. I was amazed to find a colleague like that in Chickasha, Oklahoma. We team-taught together for the next 25 years.”

That team-teaching within OCLA’s IDS program would undergo its own trials as disagreements over the radical changes instituted at the state’s request resulted in the resignation of the school’s president and the firing of eleven key faculty, including Shafer.

Weathering personal as well as professional storms, Shafer returned to the University of Oklahoma to complete a master in human relations while a lawsuit for unlawful termination worked its way through the court systems. In 1975, the courts found in favor of the faculty who had been fired and Shafer returned to the newly-christened University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma to teach.

In 1984, Shafer completed her doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma with a dissertation titled The Infinite Circle: The Chiliastic Soul in Hegel, Jung, and Hesse with Particular Emphasis on Hesse's Glasperlenspiel.

In 1988, she earned full tenure from USAO along with the title professor of religion and philosophy.

During the 1980s, Shafer also began to publish books and papers on the works of novelist, sociologist and ordained Catholic priest Andrew Greeley, with whom she would share a warm friendship until his death last year.

Her writings on Greeley included: Eros and the Womanliness of God: Andrew Greeley's Romances of Renewal (1986); The Incarnate Imagination: Essays in Theology, the Arts and Social Sciences in Honor of Andrew Greeley (1988); and Andrew Greeley's World: an Anthology of Critical Essays (1989).

Shafer was also a formidable presence at academic conferences around the world, chairing programs for numerous organizations including: Popular Culture Association; the Le Moyne Forum on Religion and Literature and the International Society for the Study of European Ideas.

In 1994, Shafer was named to the newly created post of Mary Jo Ragan Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The dawn of the internet ushered in a new chapter of Shafer’s professional life.

Shafer was a life-long proponent of encouraging dialogue between leaders of different faiths. In the 1990s, she began designing and maintaining a variety of websites related to interfaith dialogue. Between 1996 and 2004, she created more than 25 such websites including Ecumene, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies and The Pluralist Model: A Multi-Religious Exploration.

Shafer was a pioneer in using the Internet to teach students all over the world. Beginning in 1998, she taught an online graduate course for the OU Human Relations Department, Toward a Global Ethic: A Dialogue with the World's Religions – a course she taught until her death.

“The internet made the world accessible to Dr. Shafer and made Dr. Shafer accessible to the world,” Marble said. “She was in demand as a scholar and presenter and made contacts all over the world.”

In 2001, Shafer joined with Cecil Lee, regents’ professor of art at USAO and emeriti professor of art at the University of Oklahoma, and Dr. Sarah Webb, emeriti professor of English, to launch Crosstimbers, a multicultural and interdisciplinary journal published by the USAO Foundation.

The magazine remained active for 11 years, publishing essays, prose, poetry and artwork that reflected the interdisciplinary mission of the university.

During her career, Shafer received the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in College/University Teaching in 2002. In 2001, she received the Star Award in Recognition of Meritorious Work to Promote Peace and Harmony from The Association for Communal Harmony in Asia. She received USAO Regents Research Awards in 2000 and 1991 and received the USAO Regent's Superior Teaching Award in 1981.

Shafer retired in 2009.

Addressing the graduating class of her final term on campus, Shafer reflected on her time at USAO.

“Ultimately, I still see myself primarily as a part of USAO,” Shafer said.

“This is my home base – a place I cannot imagine leaving for more than a few weeks at a time. Back in 1968, I fell in love with the idea of the college I was called to develop. Now, 41 years later, I am still in love with ‘my’ school and still excited about our mission and the classes I have been privileged to teach for more than four decades.

“After this term, I myself will be one of the voices of the past, but I hope a voice that continues to remind those who cannot hear that it is not folly to pursue the impossible dream and that love is stronger than death.”

Shafer moved to Lafayette, Calif., to live with her son and his family in 2012.

The university has set up a special tribute page online where friends, students and colleagues are invited to share their memories for archival purposes. The tribute page can be found online at http://link.usao.edu/USAORI.