In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Gaymon L. Bennett, 1972-2024

by Tracy Fessenden, Director of Strategic Initiatives

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague, CSRC faculty affiliate Gaymon L. Bennett. A beloved husband, father, son, uncle, and brother, Gaymon died surrounded by family at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale on February 1, a day after he turned 52. A full obituary is posted here.

To name the CSRC projects that Gaymon enriched and enlivened in his decade at Arizona State University would be very nearly to list the Center’s activities. Gaymon arrived at ASU in 2014 with not one but two doctoral degrees, one in Philosophical Theology and another in Cultural Anthropology. He was appointed to a faculty position in Religion, Science, and Technology in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies (SHPRS), and very soon began taking part in the life of the Center. Gaymon directed, supervised, or helped to lead many of our recent collaborative projects, including Beyond Secularization: Religion, Science, and Technology in Public Life (Templeton Religion Trust), Apocalyptic Narratives and Climate Change (Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs), and Recovering Truth: Religion, Journalism, and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era (Henry Luce Foundation). He continued to teach and to take part in research after receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2021. In that year, the John Templeton Foundation funded Craftwork as Soulwork, Gaymon’s pilot project on spiritual formation for genetics researchers. His ethnographic work on the spirituality of Silicon Valley helped to inspire an upcoming workshop and other activities of the Spirituality and Public Life Initiative

Beyond the CSRC, Gaymon made key contributions to the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS), the Humanities Institute, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, where he served for several years as Associate Director. Named Director of the Lincoln Center in Fall 2023, Gaymon spoke vividly of his plans for the role in an interview that aired on KJZZ, though the progress of his illness kept him from assuming it. He was a well-published expert on the ethics of new technologies, a sought-after speaker, and a gifted and popular teacher whose “Rate My Professor” profile is dotted with icons for “respected,” “amazing,” “inspirational,” and “hilarious.”

The list of Gaymon’s achievements is long. Yet no accounting can do justice to what our SHPRS colleague Richard Amesbury called Gaymon’s “incandescence,” a brilliance that was also a keen and deeply caring aliveness. Gaymon had a radiant gift for connection with others. “Very few people I’ve known, in the academy or anywhere,” remembered former Center post-doc Charlie McCrary, had “a spirit like Gaymon’s,” a way of speaking and thinking “with such intensity and, at the same time, endless warmth and kindness.” Former Assistant Director Carolyn Forbes recalled that Gaymon was “an incredible lifeline” for our students and post-docs during the COVID-19 pandemic, “throw[ing] his backyard open for movie nights and parties.” Gaymon also hosted festive outdoor “academic salons” at his home, where amid the drinks and chatter faculty and grad students would share our research by projecting PowerPoint slides on a sheet strung up on a clothesline for the occasion.

We remember Gaymon rolling in for meetings and classes on his skateboard. We remember when Ruby and Sanner, now 13 and 15, would play in the hallways on the days Gaymon brought them with him to campus, the love between father and daughters so joyfully evident. We remember his wide-ranging intelligence and extraordinary eloquence, his graceful knack for “craft[ing] brilliant thoughts into beautiful words,” as his wife Tamara Christensen put it, always in service to broadening the circle of connection. We remember the way he laughed with his eyes.

Gaymon died with so much more to give, and in living gave so much. He was dearly loved. He is dearly missed.