Lindsay Jones, Emeritus Professor, History of Religions, The Ohio State University dies at 65.
Author of the seminal book The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison (Harvard University Press, 2000); editor-in-chief of Mircea Eliade’s 15-volume Encyclopedia of Religion (Macmillan Reference, 2005) designated “best reference source in any category” for 2005 by Booklist magazine, and the unpublished trilogy of books titled: Narrating Monte Alban: Seven True Stories of the Great Zapotec Capital of Southern Mexico. He was a long-time, active member of ACSF and gave the keynote address at the Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Symposium in Maine on May 14, 2017, his final academic presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7Chr8PZdq4
He wrote about himself: “Always good at making friends and deeply appreciative of lots of many-decade friendships, even occasionally in love, he learned early in life that solitude was, for him, a productive and prized condition. For him bachelorhood and the eremitical “life of the mind” were always the winning options.”
After the obituary that Dr. Jones himself wrote, this document contains memories, comments, and more of those ACSF friends and colleagues who wish to demonstrate their appreciation of Lindsay.
Lindsay Jones died of complications related to metastatic adenocarcinoma “of unspecified origins,” with which he had struggled for several years.
Known to many by his nickname “Syd,” the son of Ralph and Martha Jones was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1954. Never married, he is survived by two older sisters: Dana E. Jones of Colorado and Wendy Jones of Illinois. He spent his entire childhood in Libertyville, Illinois, a proud graduate of Copeland Manor Elementary School, Highland Junior High School and, in 1972, Libertyville High School. More often called creative than smart, he liked school and was a solid but hardly stupendous student. His was, as he remembered it, a quintessentially Rockwellian, all-American small-town upbringing–complete with super-stable and supportive parents, tadpole catching, pickup baseball, paper routes (one that he kept for eight years), and lots of very good friends, many that he knew well from infancy to adulthood. Though eventually he was urgently committed to broadening his horizons, he loved the Midwestern place and people from which he came.
Childhood church attendance 52-weeks a year led, even as a kid, to a mixture of respect and skepticism about Christianity; but by age eight he was certain he wanted to be an architect. A dedicated athlete of modest talents, 1,000’s of hours of jump-shooting practice allowed him to play a central role on one of the worst basketball teams in LHS school history. He won the respect of his peers instead by finding a way to put an old tire on the picturesque steeple of the local Lutheran church; in staging elaborate practical jokes and pranks he had few competitors. Happily embracing at least one Jones family tradition, he was an ardent supporter of the St. Louis Cardinals, an allegiance that worked equally to engender pride and build character while he grew up among a legion of Chicago Cubs fans. Still in the Redbird fold as an adult, be traveled in 2013 to St. Louis expressly for the funeral of Stan Musial, a favorite of his and his parents.
Regarding college, never-realized ambitions of becoming an architect, along with a fascination of the Great American West, led him to The School of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Coming of age in a wonderfully mind-expanding six-year undergraduate career, he surprised himself by earning degrees in Religious Studies and Anthropology as well as in Design; but he also took many courses for no credit and, in these years truly awakened a lifelong passion for reading and studying. An academic predisposition and intense curiosity with other cultures, which had lain dormant in his waspy Midwestern roots, emerged. Crucial During this period was the influence of historian of religions David Carrasco, subsequently a lifelong mentor and colleague who introduced him to the work of Mircea Eliade and to cultural area of Mesoamerica.
More broadly, there is lots of truth in suspicions that the values and priorities that dominated the rest of his life were strongly formed by the countercultural climate of 1970s Boulder, a hip and hippie ambience that called to question many of his suburban presuppositions. For lots of his friends this was a passing phase; but, for him, it was a kind of permanent conversion to unconventionality of a deep and lasting sort. Also, cultivating lifelong interests in wilderness and travel, he managed during those years to traverse nearly all of Colorado’s major highways and lots of minor roadways on one European motorcycle or another. He once drove an 850 Norton nonstop 1000 miles from Denver to Chicago for a wedding, then turned around and road it home. A multi-year college film series instilled a great affection for Humphrey Bogart; and he could reel off names of 90 of that alter-ego’s movies.
Regarding graduate school, he slipped through a crack into the great and powerful University of Chicago, where, ironically enough for a self-described heathen, he spent much of the 1980s taking courses in the UChicago Divinity School. By no means “god-fearing,” he saw the study of comparative religion as the best means of appreciating the manifold ways of being human. Still with aspirations to be an architect, he was drawn to Chicago primarily by the appeal of writings on “sacred space” by Mircea Eliade, with whom he took that celebrity-scholar’s final five courses. But he found not less important influences in historians of religions Joseph M. Kitagawa, Frank Reynolds, and Lawrence E. Sullivan, who would eventually serve as his dissertation adviser.
Reasoning that he was only half as smart as his classmates in that top-tier academic environment, he routinely compensated with term papers to which he devoted twice the time and twice the required length, a strategy that worked well probably because no professors actually read those wordy tomes. Continued attendance at David Carrasco’s Mesoamerican Archive conferences and workshops in Colorado, and then at Princeton and Harvard– added occasions with the added bonus of deepening the career-long influence of historian of religion Charles H. Long– made LJ’s interest in that Middle American region viable. Frequently penniless while he sacrificed every aspect of his personal life to his studies-a true believer’s approach that allowed him to serve as the inspiration for a starving but deeply committed grad student character in John Barbour’s novel Renunciation— he eventually earned an MA in Divinity in 1981 and a PhD with distinction in the History of Religions in 1989.
Never winning scholarships and averse to taking money from his parents, he funded that nearly two-decade sojourn in higher education via an array of blue-color jobs. Most notably, he worked for six seasons as a logger in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. That job required-or, better, enabled-him to live completely alone nearly half of each year in a remote mountain shack without water or electricity, miles from the nearest person. Dividing his time between falling trees, which he considered great fun, and doing the serious reading on which his academic career would be built, another task he also enjoyed immensely, this remote existence was, for him, a dream-come-true. In fall months he bad to cross-country ski the last five miles to his shack, until the depth of the snow would force him back to grad school in Chicago.
Always good at making friends and deeply appreciative of lots of many-decade friendships, even occasionally in love, he learned early in life that solitude was, for him, a productive and prized condition. Not infrequently he went a couple weeks in the forest without seeing another person-and loved it. During this seminal period, he came to concur with novelist and thinker Nikos Kazantzakis in seeing comfortable family life, not as an aspiration, but as the path of least resistance for people lacking the courage and wherewithal to live a less conventional life. For him bachelorhood and the eremitical “life of the mind” were always the winning options.
He considered his close and fun relationship with 70-year-old, fifth-grader educated sawmill owner Charles E. Sayer, the employer who made LJ’s logging adventure possible, one of the great gifts of His life. With Charles he shared a love of labor and preference for the simple and rustic, along with a deep suspicion of wealth and ostentation. Both were plain working men.
Additionally, during those long college years, be worked as a forklift driver in North Chicago and Denver, an oilfield roughneck in Montana and North Dakota, a longshoreman in St. Louis, and, during his last couple years as a grad student, a limousine driver in Chicago. Also, he enjoyed several stints in the employment of his lifetime friend Joe Gleason’s Apollo Portable Toilet business. Going to work for years with a lunch pail and hardhat deepened his respect, even affection, for manual labor and the persons who did it. Accordingly, he considered university colleagues who bragged that they had never had any non-academic employment, as if that were a virtue, to be elitist weenies.
With financial challenges that had him in and out of graduate school countless times, he eventually wrote most of his PhD dissertation, which was focused on the great Maya capital of Chichen Itza, while touring Mexico’s premier archaeological sites in a worn-out Toyota pickup truck that he had converted into a traveling office and library. That 13-month jaunt in 1987-88 proved to be the precedent for many trips in which he drove by himself all over central and southern Mexico—studying ruins and spending weeks at a time holed up in cheap hotels reading and writing-a low-end style of travel that he truly came to love, and thus pursued until the very end of his life. Over time he was fortunate in coming to know many leading Mexican archaeologists and historians, but, actually, he loved Mexico most from the bottom up. His years in the Wyoming woods had prepared him well for a rustic engagement with Mesoamerica.
University of Chicago doctorate in hand by 1989, he took a position at The Ohio State University where, during the next three decades, he passed through the ranks from instructor to assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, and finally emeritus professor. Pleased to be among the tiny minority of idealistic scholars who actually got a full-time academic position at a major research institution, he was never well-suited to be a Buckeye. His interactions with colleagues in the Department of Comparative Studies-an experimental unit that morphed into a caricature of 1990s preachy preoccupations with race, class, and gender (all topics with which he too was much concerned)-were more often frustrating and debilitating than rewarding. Nonetheless, almost without exception, he enjoyed the students. Teaching was the strongest part of his academic game; and thus, he was deeply disappointed, indeed heartbroken, by a department that he could not in good conscience recommend it to any serious student of religion, least of all graduate students.
Not surprisingly, then, most of his closest colleagues resided at other universities and, in many cases, outside the USA. Historian of religion and Islam, Marilyn R. Waldman, a mentor of the highest order, was an important exception, as was Xiaomei Chen, a China-born literary scholar whose much-valued friendship epitomized his favorite aspect of academic life–namely, meeting and interacting with people from backgrounds and cultures very different from his own white-boy suburban roots. To that end–i.e., the thrill of “deprovincialization”–he spent two years as a visiting foreign professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan (1998-2000). That Asian base enabled travels to Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (Java and Bali), India, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines-all eye-opening excursions that were focused on studying and photographing the region’s respective sacred sites.
He considered his The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison (Harvard University Press, 2000), later reissued as seven slim volumes, his most important and original work. But there is no doubt that his most lasting academic contribution was serving as editor-in-chief for a heavily revised second edition of Mircea Eliade’s 15-volume Encyclopedia of Religion (Macmillan Reference, 2005). Overseeing a fabulously diverse 13-person editorial board and some three-dozen area-specific consultants-every one of them a scholar superior to the main editor-he nevertheless organized their contributions into a ten-million-word encyclopedia with 3000 articles by 2000 authors. That huge work was designated “best reference source in any category” for 2005 by Booklist magazine, the review journal of the American Library Association (ALA). Largely on the merits of that work, he was awarded the “Mircea Eliade Centennial Jubilee Medal.” by the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, at the presidential palace in Bucharest, Romania, in 2006, “as a sign of appreciation for praiseworthy activity and remarkable contribution to the history of religions.”
In 2016, after 27 years, he happily left Ohio State with, he thought, lots left in the tank, so to speak. In mislabeled “retirement”-he preferred the term “at liberty” -he shifted all of his attention to research and writing about the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The alternate universe of Oaxaca, a perfect place for a historian of religions of his ilk, allowed him to be a different person; and he set to work on a trilogy of books that would together constitute “an architectural reception history” of the great archaeological-tourist site of Monte Alban.
Almost immediately, though, he was diagnosed with incurable stage-four cancer, which infected his body from toes to fingertips. After a lifetime of near-perfect health and lots of energy, now he bad a prognosis of 6-9 months to live. At that point, entering a kind of personal purgatory of uncertain length, he ended all normal activities and involvements, and devoted himself solely to getting as far as he could with his Monte Alban project. His last academic presentation was a keynote address on “Architectural Pedimentos: Crafting Petitions for a Better Life in Southern Mexico” for the ninth annual symposium of the Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Forum at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine (May 2017). He much appreciated that internationally diverse and energetic group of architect-scholars, which friend and ACSF founder Julio Bermudez had convened.
Instead of the end, however, he responded remarkably well to a then-experimental cocktail of chemo- and immuno-therapies, a dozen rounds of which he did at the OSU James Cancer Hospital and, for another few months, at a cancer clinic in McAllen, Texas, to which he traveled every three weeks from Oaxaca. That carpet-bombing medical miracle gave him nearly two more years to work on the Monte Alban project, along with the right to brag that he had outlived 90% of those with his diagnosis.
But, in 2019, when “‘the Emperor of All Maladies” reasserted itself, just as the experts said it would, no conventional or experimental treatments did anything to slow the cancer. By the end of that year he was toast, no longer well enough to write. And, consequently, he posted at https://u.osu.edu/jones70personalwebsite a complete version of the first book, Narrating Monte Alban: Seven True Stories of the Great Zapotec Capital of Southern Mexico, and a 280,000-word working version of the second, The Religion of Monte Alban: Reflections on an Enduring Work of Sacred Architecture in Oaxaca, Mexico. The third book was still too rough to share.
He was disappointed that he did not last long enough in 2020 to vote for the next US president, and even more crestfallen that he was not able to complete his imagined three book magnum opus. He did manage, however, to establish the Billy Creek Trust, named for his first timber sale and administered by trusted friend Jill Conley, which directs funds to the sort of projects and persons that he admired. He requested that his cremated remains be distributed in a favorite portion of the Monte Alban ruins (only inadvertently to complicate the efforts of archaeologists).
Lindsay Jones. In Memoriam
I already admired Lindsay Jones before I had met him. My admiration grew out of his remarkable and influential book, “The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture” — a source I often returned to and used on my scholarship. So, when I got a chance, I invited him to be part of a symposium I was organizing at my university in Fall 2011. Preparing to meet him, I realized that I had no idea what he looked like. How would I know it was him? There were no photos of him anywhere (and they are still rare – he was a very private person), so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought of him as a short, rounded, bald, old scholar … intellectual, smart, and on the serious side of things. Needless to say, that I was surprised when I saw him for the first time. Here there was this handsome, tall, and physical guy that looked like an athlete rather than a scholar. He gave me a firm handshake. He was witty and with a smile on his face. He spoke Spanish and had amazing stories to tell from his early times in Chichen-Itza and working with legendary Mircea Eliade to his years as a lumberjack in the West of the U.S. Talking to him, you’d forget that he was the best scholar on sacred space of his generation … until you brought up the issue, of course! He gave a fantastic talk at my symposium, but he never sent me his portrait photo so I could include it in the contributors’ portion of the book I ended up producing out of the meeting. Lindsay, as I said, was very private.
I was co-chairing the 4th ACSF Symposium that following Spring 2012. And since it was going to take place in Chichen-Itza and, it was a no-brainer to ask Lindsay to be our keynote AND guide. I could only offer some basic support for travel, no honorarium. With great enthusiasm, he jumped at the opportunity immediately. This trip cemented our friendship because, over the month before the trip, I often talked to him for advice and ideas on how best to run it. This only intensified during the actual journey. The best part of his symposium performance was his guided tour of Chichen-Itza. But, in the middle of it, something memorable happened. As we walked through the place (some twenty of us), from building to building and area to area (it’s a big site), we were stopped by some Mexican tour guides demanding us to stop because Lindsay didn’t have a tour license to do it… and they commanded us to hire them, or they would call the park police. Lindsay tried to joke with them in Spanish, but they were not impressed. Realizing the situation, I pulled him aside and told him that we needed to deal with the matter the “Mexican way” (Lindsay had spent years and years in that country, so he knew what I meant). Over the next 15 minutes, we “fixed” the situation, and they never bothered us again for the next two days, we stayed at that fantastic place. That “fight” made Lindsay and I “brothers in arms” if you wish.
Fast-forward now to the hot afternoon of the next day when I found myself bored and sitting in the shade of some huge jungle tree (I’ve been to Chichen-Itza 3 times already and there was not much else for me to see … plus it was hot). It was then that I saw Lindsay about to sneak out of the ‘legal’ area of the archeological site … I ran toward him. He saw me and waited. I asked him what he was doing. He said, “Do you want to see Chichen-Itza like never before?” and looked at me with his unmistakably daring smile. I said, “YES!” He told me to get 2 or 3 of our people interested in coming along. I could only manage to get one other soul (2 turned me down, scared). So, here we were three of us … David Krizaj and I are following Lindsay into the jungle. He instructs us that we need to do as he says and follow him from close behind. We find a hidden area where to cross into the no-trespassing area and proceed to take, what Lindsay says, it’s the path of the native Mayans into the jungle … At one point we have to hide not to be discovered — we lay down full body extended on the ground … it is a bit scary but so exciting and fun … Lindsay eventually gets us to an archeological restoration of elite Mayan homes … they certainly don’t look at all that we have been told in the school or is in the books. These homes are large, sophisticated, and surprising, with beautiful courtyards … After 15 minutes or so, Lindsay says: “let’s go and explore!” Now, David and I are 100% into it. No more doubts … and follow Lindsay blindly … At times, I get worried that I will step into some big snake or who knows what, but I can’t chicken out now. Lindsay knows what he is doing. We walk and walk in the jungle until we start to go upwards, and he commands us to climb. We are now climbing a steep hill, and it’s hard going, lots of vegetation too, and we have no machetes. The canopy above us is thick, so you can’t see the sky. We are sweating big time … about 10 minutes into the climb I see an amazing piece of carved rock coming out of the dirt and vegetation, just next to my hand and realize that we are climbing a Mayan ruin … I feel like Indiana Jones! But Lindsay keeps on climbing up, and I figure that if I lose him, I am dead because this is the jungle, and I have no idea where I am. Lindsay just powers forward, non-stop. He’s a man with a mission. David and I struggle to keep his pace. Eventually, we reach the top, which means we clear the jungle tree canopy. I am stunned by the view. At about 1 or 1.5 miles away, there is the top of the great pyramid: El Castillo. It dawns on me that we are on top of a pyramid at least as high as El Castillo! It’s impossible, I tell myself. How come that it hasn’t been excavated? Lindsay informs us that 95% or more of Chichen-Itza remains buried and the wealth of knowledge and culture underneath the jungle is immense, yet untouched. I will never forget the feeling of being suspended (almost like floating) over the green sea of leaves that was undulating just slightly by the hot breeze with the prominent El Castillo at a distance and Lindsay next to me. Time stood still …
The other image from that trip to the Yucatan that I still have comes from after the symposium. We are riding a bus back to Cancun, and Lindsay requests the driver to drop him off in some small village literally in the middle of nowhere. He only had a backpack with him. Lindsay knew how to travel! I approach him, and I asked him in Spanish not to worry the rest of our travel companions “¿Sabes lo que estas haciendo?” (do you know what you are doing?). He laughed and says: “Si, tengo amigos por aqui!” (yes, I’ve got friends around here). The bus stops, and I see Lindsay descending and saying good-bye to all of us. I thought what a character!!! And my admiration for him instantaneously doubled: so much freedom and trust in the world.
Since April 2012, Lindsay grew more and more supportive and interested in our ACSF group during that time. He came to our 5th meeting at Harvard the following Spring 2013 with a beautiful female companion (from Peru, I believe) about whom he’d not disclose any information. Again, a very private guy. In 2014 or 15, he came to Washington, DC, a couple of times, and we met, shared meals and beer, and good talks. He attended the 8th and 9th ACSF meetings in New Harmony (Indiana, 2016) and Haystack (Maine, 2017). His keynote lecture at Haystack (about Architectural Pedimentos in Southern Mexico) was culturally thick, sophisticated, yet full of humanity like only Lindsay could deliver. We are lucky to have recorded it, so it’s available on our organization’s website.
It was at Haystack when I noticed something strange in Lindsay’s behavior. I approached him and asked him about it, but he’d say nothing. It was the last day at the conference when we were taking the group photo that I saw him staying away from people —not something usual for him to do. After the picture, I went and asked him again if everything was ok. It was then that he told me that he had found out that he was very sick and asked me to tell no-one (but he wouldn’t elaborate) — something that I respected until his passing. Since that moment, I stayed in touch with Lindsay more often. That happened in late May 2017, and I myself was going to go thru some very hard times as a 10-year-old relationship was to come to an unexpected end that June. I shared my sadness and frustration with Lindsay, who, in turn, felt, I think, able to share his. He revealed his ordeal and, again, we became brothers in arms, sharing a fight for hope at a tough time in our lives. He was so helpful to me, and I can only hope that I was the same for him. Of course, his health situation cannot be compared to my situation. Over the following months and years ahead, we kept in touch, comparing notes. He’d go to Mexico and once in a while send me some fun email telling him about his Monte Alban experiences, his time with the local people, the food, and Mexican jokes. He was so good at meeting people from all paths of life, beliefs, customs; you name it. He was completely open-minded, optimistic, positive. He was a real phenomenologist who applied a “hermeneutics of suspicion” only to ideas and arguments, never to people. He was warm and direct. His last email to me, dated on Feb 21, reveals his always positive outlook in life. Somethings that brings me hope, even in the gloomy times we got to live. He says good-bye to me thus
“Anyway, only a month until the Serpent of Light descends the Chichen Itza Castillo. Looking forward to spring!”
Looking back, I must say that Lindsay was utterly true to himself and a decisively independent soul. He pursued his life in total freedom, exploring the world with curiosity and open-mindedness, intrigued by things even if they appeared ordinary to others (he’d always find some remarkable secrets behind them). His fight with cancer was incredible. He never allowed the illness to take over his life. He did what needed to be done but kept things in perspective, finding the exact way to enjoy whatever it was left for him to enjoy. I was so moved and impressed by his courage and attitude. It was clear that Lindsay had managed to tame his ego —a proof of his wisdom and spiritual growth. I doubt that anyone would have lived better the time he had than him. Lindsay was and remains an example for me on how to deal with the ultimate existential challenge we all face. He completed his life exactly how he had lived it: devoted to doing what he loved the most, in order to share it with all of us. One of the last emails he sent to many of us included an attachment with a draft of his second book on Montel Alban based on in-situ studies.
Like so many people, I am very sad for having lost him. Lindsay was the type of person that the world desperately needs. He seemed to have found the perfect balance between spirit, intellect, emotion, and embodiment. This remarkable achievement confers his scholarly work all the more power because it gives it a humanity that, while already there, is now deeper, wider, and personal for those of us that knew him.
Lindsay’s work, voice, manners, friendship, stories, wit, and so much more live in me, and in all that knew him. He made our lives better. Thank you, Lindsay!
August 25, 2020
Reflection on Lindsay Jones
To address the human experience of sacred architecture without acknowledging the contributions made by Lindsay Jones would be a difficult task. Jones’ legacy is tied to his convictions about sacred space and the ritual events of the built environment. He was the editor-in-chief of the 15-volume second edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion (MacMillan Reference, 2005), a colossal testament to his commitment to understanding the diversity of religious practice.
In a similar vein, Jones’ The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Continuation, Comparison (Harvard University Press, 2000) is a detailed exploration of the pre-Columbian cities of Tula and Chichen Itza. Until the end of his life, Jones treated the geography of Mexico’s ancient cities as sacred texts where he could integrate his passions for religion, anthropology, and design.
Jones’ thinking was shaped by the theories of Hans Georg Gadamer, as well as the Romanian religionist Mircea Eliade’s writings on “sacred space.” Indeed, by taking on the task of expanding the Encyclopedia of Religion into a second edition, Jones stepped into the footsteps of Eliade, editor of the first edition. Eliade had been Jones’ teacher at the University of Chicago, where Jones took all five of Eliade’s legendary final courses. In acknowledgment of Jones’ own broadening of our understanding of the history of religions, he was awarded in 2006 the “Mircea Eliade Centennial Jubilee Medal” by the President of Romania, Traian Basescu.
Overlaid onto these achievements was Jones’ creative avidity and maverick spirit. He wrote that his encounter in the 1970s with the countercultural environment of Boulder, Colorado, “was a kind of conversion to unconventionality of a deep and lasting sort.” This was followed by his immersion in the 1980s at the vibrant University of Chicago Divinity School. These intellectual climates shaped Jones’ passion for the lived experience of sacred architecture. Given this spirit of encounter and curiosity, it is appropriate that Jones’ last presentation was in May 2017 to the ACSF audience at the Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine.
Karla Cavarra Britton
August 7, 2020
I had so much affection and respect for Lindsay. He not only changed (for the better) my views on religious architecture, but on the world as well. His insightful, incisive, and erudite writing is a model I aspire to (but will never achieve). We were honored by his presentations at our symposia, which I remember vividly and fondly. His last lecture was at ACSF-9 at Haystack. I will miss him, but know that he lives on in all he taught, inspired and befriended.
What a terrible loss, professionally and personally. Lindsay was always so generous with his heart as well as his mind.
Michael J. Crosbie
My interactions with Lindsay only cover being together at three ACSF symposia, but that was more than enough for him to leave an indelible personal impression for he was far from the typical academic one meets at conferences. As a person, Lindsay could effortlessly pull off that rare combination of rigorous scholarship, irreverent humour, spontaneous affection and a zest for life that made him totally his own person, uncontaminated by convention. When he was presenting, you would be awestruck by the incisive erudition of his scholarship, and then when he came off the podium, he would engage you in conversation with such interest, warmth and liveliness that within a couple of minutes of meeting him for the first time, you felt you were talking to an old friend.
Above all, Lindsay was visibly what we, in India, call a yogi – a disciplined seeker of the transcendental. And not a conventional yogi; there is a branch in Indian tradition that believes that the seeker with the deepest spiritual understanding is the one who approaches the divine with scepticism and irreverence. To such a seeker, only what is personally experienced and known is accepted, so this seeker embodies the truth to the core of his being. That was Lindsay. Put that together with the joy of companionship with him and you would look at him and think, “I wish everyone could be like this.” His absence will be felt, and his spirit will continue to infect those who knew him and remember him.
A commentary on Lindsay Jones
In 2012 I had the honor of serving as co-chair with Julio Bermudez for the ACS 4 Symposium. It was the first symposium at that time, to be held outside of the United States at the magnificent ruins at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. I was particularly fascinated with the choice of site in that we could engage in a setting entirely involved in a place that is now a ruin.
Ruins and their larger philosophical and spiritual attributes were soon illuminated by our invited guest speaker for the keynote address, Lindsay Jones. What was profound and yet delightful was the notion of storytelling. In fact, that was a part of the title of his presentation “Narrating Chichen Itza: A Modest contribution to the History of Ideas – and Storytelling – about the City of the Sacred Well. “A modest contribution was an understatement. It was a profound reflection on the larger meaning that Chichen Itza has presented to the world. At the same time Mr. Jones referred in his handout, to the various personages that have visited the ruins over centuries, and their own observations…. and stories, what he called “elliptical titles”: The Pragmatic, The Dashingly Autodidactic, The Iconoclastic, and his own The Hermeneutical! The presentation was absolutely delightful, filled with his own wit and passion that was quickly felt by the entire audience.
I was delighted to finally meet the man himself. Although he has sadly passed on, his work continues to give all of us insights that are at once profound, and deeply spiritual.
Lindsay Jones: In Memoriam
With the passing of Lindsay Jones, the world of comparative religions has lost an unparalleled scholar, beloved educator, prolific author and editor. As a member of ACSF’s Board, I also grieve the loss of a friend, advocate, and significant contributor to our organization’s publications and symposia. I found Lindsay’s presentations at our annual symposium to be absolutely mesmerizing. His animated delivery style and command of presentation software to effectively illustrate his topic thesis were incomparable, taking us way beyond anything I have ever seen before or indeed since.
Employing what he would characterize as a “hermeneutics of suspicion”, his research challenged traditional archeological interpretations of sacred sites, and demonstrated remarkably engaging insights into the meaning of their architecture and the religious rituals held in their midst. I was awed by his seamless ability to be both scholarly and entertaining at the same time.
My fondest and most enduring memories of Lindsay emerge from the time that Julio convened his conference on Transcendent Architecture at CUA, Washington D.C., not only for his compelling presentation on the great Maya capital of Chichen Itza, but for the many memorable impromptu encounters we shared while travelling back and forth from the subway station or milling about between sessions. Always in the best of humor, and infinitely well-versed in his topic of enquiry, I will selfishly miss him and all he had to offer us as individuals and collectively as an organization. Lindsay, with deep felt gratitude, I thank you for your generosity of spirit, your humility, your gift of research and critical thinking, and above all, the enduring legacy of your extensive, extraordinary, published body of work.
In 2016 Lindsay Jones came to St. Olaf College to give a lecture and to respond to an exhibition of the Anastylosis Project, a drawing series based on 12th century architecture. Years earlier I had come upon his book, The Hermeneutics of Sacred Space, at a pivotal time in the development of this project and though we had never met, he graciously agreed to come to St. Olaf and respond to my work at the opening of the retrospective. Lindsay’s depth of knowledge, nimble mind and boundless curiosity was apparent throughout his time at St. Olaf. His fresh point of view and trenchant comments reframed the exhibition and the entire community was engaged not only by his scholarship but his genuine interest in, and insights into, the various natures of sacred space.
Lindsay had that rare quality of focused attention and all who met him were inspired to think more deeply and to strive for clarity. As he and I continued our connection via email and at the ACSF conference at Haystack, I came to appreciate his true gift for friendship and his unerring ability to ask the exactly right question at the right time in order to challenge and support intellectual and creative work. The questions he asked and observations he made continue to inform my studio practice. His personal commitment to rigor reminds me to look more deeply and engage more fully with my work. Lindsay is missed.
Respectfully, Mary Griep
In Memoriam Lindsay R. Jones
Dr. Lindsay Jones was indeed a brilliant and notable scholar (a comparative historian of religion right up there next to Mircea Eliade), but more importantly he was a beautiful human being with a divine purpose. While we are all deeply saddened with his passing, I would like to celebrate his life with a memory of appreciation. Lindsay Jones has been a personal friend and mentor of mine for over a decade.
I was first privileged to come to know Lindsay vicariously through his writings found in his masterful and important two-volume series The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture. I always appreciated the openness of Lindsay’s work, especially his invitation to “students of architecture and religion…to work, construct, and experiment in whatever ways suit their own purposes.” I took that advice to heart beginning with my undergraduate studies in architecture while designing a conceptual senior project.
During my search for an ideal graduate program, Lindsay again played a key role in pointing me in the right direction. During my graduate studies with Julio Bermudez at the Catholic University of America, I continued to experiment and test Lindsay’s work on yet another level to better understand “ritual-architectural events” through survey research. In all my conversations with Lindsay during those formative years, he always assured me that approaching his work from the architect’s perspective would eventually have its advantages in practice since my ultimate desire was to design “real” sacred architecture.
Once I entered professional practice as an architect, I began yet another journey with Lindsay’s work. This time, however, I was engaging in what he termed the “ritual-architectural design process.” Just as he promised to me early on, however, the working knowledge of his framework gained during my education proved to be very helpful in practice. It helped to reconcile competing priorities in the decision-making process as well as how to design sacred spaces ready to facilitate “ritual-architectural events.”
Now that I have entered a new chapter of my life in the realm of academia, I continue to find Lindsay Jones’ work inspiring and beneficial. From teaching students how to engage in “hermeneutical questioning” to seeing the “interrelations between built forms, ritual processes, and human experiences,” Lindsay’s work continues to live on and inspire a new generation of students.
Lindsay Jones was instrumental in not only my own educational and professional development, but his work has inspired a generation of scholars and architects alike. I know that I am not alone in being indebted to Lindsay and the remarkable life he lived. His friendship, mentorship, and scholarship have been a heaven-sent blessing. Lindsay’s work inspired me as a student, an architect, and now it continues to do so as a teacher. Lindsay Jones will be sincerely missed by all of us. In light of his recent passing, I am particularly touched by the profound and revelatory insights that he wrote to me during our last correspondence a few years ago: “perhaps the gods(?) have something else in mind for me.”
I am heart broken and not many words – thank you for the obituary it was like listening to him. I (we) have so many wonderful memories of that haystack conference and his presence both during the daytime events and in the evening (I remember some late-night storytelling and tequila) will remain with me.
In resonance with Lindsay Jones
Lindsay and I first met during the 2013 ACSF Symposium 5 at Harvard. There, as an introductory act of closeness, he confided in me of the influence that my book The Sense of Unity had on his writings on Sacred Architecture. From that time, we maintained a somewhat steady correspondence, until we encountered each other once again in Toronto for the ACSF 2014 Symposium 6. The vivid memory of how, during one lunch break, a very serious Lindsay balancing a bulging plastic bag of water on his head nonchalantly striding across the courtyard, much to the bemusement of Julio and the crowd, was caught in the above photo. During the conference sessions, we talked more and he shared with me of his ardent wish that his seminal book: The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture (Harvard hardback retailing at $100 with reviews: “A bold, innovative and expansive vision of creativity of built forms”) could be reissued in a more affordable, accessible version.
Being familiar with this insightful book, my first observation was that it is a “treasure that should be known”. The second was to suggest that a close colleague who is a publisher, Laleh Bakhtiar, might be interested to help and introduced them together. The short of this story is that in 2016, a seven-volume, miniature paperback edition at only $21 was published by Kazi Publishers, Chicago. The cover of one volume is attached and I recommend this very accessible “Treasury of Metaphysical Wisdom” to our ACSF community.
It is rare that one meets a stranger with whom one immediately develops a strong, appreciative intellectual and spiritual resonance, such as the one I experienced and continue to do so with Lindsay, even though he has now passed on.
May God rest his beautiful soul in peace.
In Memoriam, Lindsay Jones
When Lindsay presented to the ACSF he usually projected PowerPoint slides that seemed to defy all the usual rules of the medium: too many images per page, riotous color, too many words and pages. As he spoke, he touched on these elements, images, and ideas, drawing imperceptibly closer to his point, which was both surprising and profound. Afterwards, in a room filled with professional teachers and scholars, you could feel the deep satisfaction. He was an absolute master of his scholarship, of course, and deeply knowledgeable, but rather more importantly he had a gift for human connection through shared wondering. His love in and for the classroom transcended his erudition. We felt that love instantly, and wanted more of it for ourselves, such was his gift and his humility. His kindness and care, his total commitment and fearlessness. When we held the ninth annual ACSF meeting at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, Lindsay made it into a road trip from his home in Oaxaca, with the knowledge of his terminal illness in tow. He spoke of “Architectural Pedimentos: Crafting Petitions for a Better Life in Southern Mexico,” in his inimitable, miraculous style, and he brought gifts of the little architectural ritual offerings for his ACSF friends, such was his love. Some of us have wept with astounded joy at Lindsay’s own life reckoning in his obituary. His final gift was this: an image—an aspiration—of a consciously constructed life well lived.
Lindsay was such a mix of seriousness and humor, physicality and intellect, both aspiring and down to earth. I always looked forward to seeing him and I will miss him very much.
The last time I saw Lindsay was at Haystack. He told a story and gave me a gift that pretty much sum up what he has meant to me.
The story he told was that when his father died, Lindsay asked the funeral director if he could dig the grave himself, by hand. The funeral director had never been asked that before. Every time I imagine it, it seems so bracing, so correct, so beautiful, and so perfectly Lindsay.
The gift Lindsay gave me (photos attached) I keep on top of the coffee cups where I see it every morning. The “Architect’s Office”. I also call it “The Death of Drawing” and the mirror! It always makes me smile, and from time to time, laugh out loud.
Lindsay was such a mix of seriousness and humor, physicality and intellect, both aspiring and down to earth. I always looked forward to seeing him and I will miss him very much.
William C. Tripp
Dear Friends and Colleagues of Lindsay Jones:
I was blessed, as teachers sometimes are, to meet a rare and wonderful student named Lindsay Jones during my first teaching job at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I remember vividly the first time he appeared to me in a course on Religious Dimensions in Human Experience. Red haired and very smart with the best questions in the class, he wrote a stunning final paper that drew me to him and his work. Over the years we grew close and worked together on several projects. Here is a wonderful photo of Lindsay with Charles Long, Robert Carlsen and Alfredo Lopez Austin at a gathering in 1991 in Boulder. The photo was taken by Lawrence Desmond and appears in a book he made “Scholars in Dark Glasses: Photos of MMARP Symposia, 1982-1994”. I can eventually produce high quality copies of this photo and a number of others of Lindsay that appear in the book.
Warm Greetings and a time of profound loss. I’m very grateful for his life and the obituary he wrote.
I know a few of you personally, a few from Lindsay’s stories, and many not at all. I feel a bond with you all as fellow admirers and friends of Lindsay, and hope to learn more about him from you.
This is so sad! Terrible news in these terrible days. Lindsay Jones had an outstanding and privileged mind. No doubt, he was one of the most brilliant students of our academic leader Professor David Carrasco. His work was inspiring for my PhD dissertation in France. Descanse en paz!
Leonardo López Luján
So sorry to hear this. Thanks for letting me know. Yes, may God rest his soul in peace.
Laleh Bakhtiar, Kazi Publishers