One of ISKCON’s best friends and scholarly supporters, Professor Thomas J. Hopkins, passed away the morning of Saturday, February 20, 2021, at the age of ninety-one. Dr. Hopkins was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College, USA, and an expert in the study of Caitanya Vaishnavism.
Professor Hopkins met Srila Prabhupada and the early ISKCON devotees in 1966 at 26 Second Avenue in New York City, ISKCON’s first temple. He purchased a set of Srila Prabhupada’s original publication of the “Srimad Bhagavatam” during that visit. At one point, Professor Hopkins arranged for Srila Prabhupada to teach a course at Franklin and Marshall College, where he was a professor. In the end, Srila Prabhupada declined this offer because Srila Prabhupada was too busy establishing the ISKCON and its temple-centers.
Professor Hopkins wrote an oft-quoted review of the Bhagavad-gita As-It-Is, wherein he commented: “There is little question that this edition is one of the best books available on the Gita and devotion. Prabhupada’s translation is an ideal blend of literal accuracy and religious insight.”
Professor Hopkins contributed his own eloquent writing to many ISKCON publications, such as his article entitled, “A Vital Transition: The Molding of the Hare Krishna Movement in British India,” for the BTG Magazine (Vol. 16, No. 8). A “Preface” to one of Kusakratha Dasa’s works, a “Foreword” to Hari Sauri Dasa’s book, “A Transcendental Diary,” another “Foreword” to Satyaraja’s recent work entitled, “Swamiji: An Early Disciple, Brahmananda Dasa, Remembers His Guru,” and other works.
Perhaps Professor Hopkin’s most well-known writing among ISKCON members is his “Foreword” to the second volume of Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s biography of Srila Prabhupada, “Planting the Seed.” He begins with his famous first words: “The story you are about to read is, like many true stories, highly improbable.” He goes on to write, “What follows is a remarkable tale of faith, determination, and success beyond anyone’s expectation.”
Dr. Graham Schweig, Garuda dasa, comments, “Tom and I were good friends and close colleagues. Tom had truly a great love for devotees, for Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON, and for the vibrant Vaishnava tradition and its rich literature.”
Describing the photo above Garuda writes, “The picture is of Tom and I in his library at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, taken about two years ago when he was eighty-nine years of age. Of special note are the books on some of the shelves behind us: all the Lilamrita volumes, the three original “Delhi” Bhagavatams, other books by devotees, and a complete set of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies on the top shelf.”
Professor Hopkins was the Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) in the UK during 1998-1999. He remained a Senior Associate Fellow at the Centre until his passing. In that capacity and others, he helped to train a new generation of Vaishnava scholars.
Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of OCHS said, “Tom was a gentleman, a scholar, and a good friend. He was an academic of great integrity. A religious man with an open heart and an appreciation of goodness wherever he found it. It was a great pleasure working with him. He was dedicated, grave, funny, and warm in his dealings – above all, he was kind. At the OCHS, we owe him a great debt. As our Academic Director, he identified the Centre as a bridge, between scholars, between communities, and between cultures – a policy which has influenced the ethos of the Centre ever since.
Dr. Ravi Gupta, Radhika Raman das, wrote that “This is indeed a sad day for ISKCON and the scholarly community. Professor Hopkins was a pioneer in the field of Vaishnava studies—one of the first American scholars to study the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna bhakti, and ISKCON’s development in the West. He will be deeply missed within the Vaishnava community and among scholars of religion.”
Professor Hopkins was the key-note speaker at an academic conference held at Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions in 2016, entitled “The Worldwide Krishna Movement: Half a Century of Growth, Impact, and Challenge.” His article, and the book from that conference, are forthcoming.
He also appears in the film about that conference found here: https://iskconnews.org/video/iskcon50-academic-conference-at-harvard-university,1620/ Shaunaka Rishi also shares a moment of levity about his relationship with the professor in that film.
In the film, Professor Hopkins urges ISKCON to study its history and define its theology before others, who are less informed, fill the vacuum. He ends his remarks with a jolly, “Hari bol!”
Garuda concluded, “Tom Hopkins’ unique contributions to Srila Prabhupada’s legacy will never be forgotten. Let us wish him well as he leaves this world after having given so much to the understanding of Krishna Bhakti in the intellectual world. And let us wish him well by celebrating him as one who offered both his mind and heart to the spread of Krishna’s love around the world.”
Below is an obituary was written by Dr. Schweig for academics around the world.
It is with much sadness (but also many sweet memories!) that I report to all of you that our beloved colleague and friend Tom Hopkins gently passed away this morning in his asleep at the age of ninety-one. A couple of months ago, Tom suffered a stroke, but appeared to be recovering quite steadily and well from it, so his departure today comes unexpectedly.
Tom was born on July 28th, 1930 in Champaign, Illinois. He was married to Fran (Skinner) Hopkins on December 22, 1956. Together they had four children, five grandchildren, and even four great-grandchildren. He will be very missed by all of them.
Tom’s colorful educational background can be spelled out as follows: Tom earned his B.S. in Physics in 1953, and went on to MIT earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in the same year. He then went on to Yale Divinity School to earn his B.D. in Religion and Culture, and then completed the M.A. in 1959 and the Ph.D. in 1962 in Comparative Religion from Yale University Graduate School. His unpublished dissertation is entitled, The Vaishnava Bhakti Movement in the Bhagavata Puraṇa.
From 1961 to 1996, Tom taught in the Religious Studies Department at Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he also served as department chair from 1974 to 1994. From 1998 to 1999, he was Director of Academic Affairs for the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, an independently recognized centre by Oxford University, where he acted as liaison between the Centre and various Oxford academic program, tutored two graduate students, and gave a seminar and series of lectures on Hinduism under the auspices of the Faculty of Theology of Oxford University.
His chapter, entitled, “The Social Teaching of the Bhagavata Puraṇa,” was published in a landmark publication in the field at the time, entitled, Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes, edited by Milton Singer (published by East-West Center Press, 1966, and then in softcover edition by University of Chicago Press, 1969). Among Tom’s many publications, he is perhaps most well-known for his book, The Hindu Religious Tradition, originally published by Dickenson Publishing Co. in 1971, used in the classroom as a standard textbook by so many colleagues. During his last years of life, he had practically doubled the size of the book to produce a second edition to bring his work up to date with current research. Over the past year, I have been in the process of working on Tom’s behalf to get this second edition published, and will continue to do this for him.
Many of us in the field knew him back in those days when he was a very active and vibrant participant at every annual international meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). In fact, he was a member of the AAR from its very inception back in 1963, up until 1990. I myself remember him very well when I started attending the AAR 1977, and was amazed by his generosity toward budding graduate students as well as his wise counsel to accomplished scholars in the field and to the Academy as well. His personality was warm and intellectually active, and had a tempered sense of humor that was enjoyed by everyone. He was very gregarious, a good friend to so many, and just an example of the finest of humanity. And though he has been retired for well over twenty years, his contribution of mind and heart will never be forgotten and will always be remembered especially by those whose intellects and hearts he has touched.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies