Kierkegaard translator, and post-war refugee pioneer, dies

By staff writers
March 29, 2010

Howard V. Hong, English translator of writings by the Danish philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, and a pioneer in leading Lutheran services to refugees in Europe after World War Two, has died.

Dr Hong was philosophy professor emeritus at St Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA. He died earlier this month while in hospice care in Northfield. Hong's death resulted from the effects of a fall in October 2009. He was 97.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a radical Christian philosopher who critiqued the 'Christendom' collaboration of church and state, advocating an agonistic faith rooted in the practical following of Christ in place of a bland 'civic religion'. He strongly criticised both the abstract Hegelianism of his time and what he saw as the empty formalities of the Danish National Church.

A memorial service for Dr Hong was held on 27 March in Boe Memorial Chapel, St Olaf College, and was streamed live at on the web. The college is one of 27 colleges and universities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

A burial service for Hong is being held today on 29 March 2010 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hovland, Minnesota.

Dr Hong and his wife Edna developed an interest in Kierkegaard and travelled to Copenhagen in the late 1930s. They studied Danish and began translating scores of Kierkegaard's writings. The Hongs were honoured many times for their translation work, including a National Book Award presented to them in 1968.

"Howard Hong was above all things a builder," said the Rev Ishmael Noko, LWF General Secretary, in a statement to Lutheran World Information (LWI).

"As a teacher, he formed young minds with his own passion for knowledge and inquiry. In the midst of the devastation caused by war, he offered help in rebuilding lives and societies, first with prisoners of war and then with refugees. And he was one of the creative minds behind the construction of the Lutheran service to refugees and displaced persons in the aftermath of World War Two," declared Noko.

When the war ended, Dr Hong went to Germany under the auspices of the World Alliance of YMCAs to work with war prisoners, LWI reported. In 1947 the National Lutheran Council in the United States asked him to develop a programme to aid refugees in war-torn Europe. That work eventually became the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Service to Refugees (LWF-SR) and continues today as the LWF Department for World Service.


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