Robert K. Ritner Jr., eminent Egyptologist and beloved teacher, 1953–2021

Robert K. Ritner Jr.

Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr., a world-renowned Egyptologist and beloved teacher who spent decades at the University of Chicago, died July 25 after a yearslong battle with kidney disease and leukemia. He was 68 years old.

Remembered by colleagues for his devotion to Egyptology in his professional and personal life, Ritner wrote The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, one of the most influential volumes in the study of ancient Egyptian religion, magic and culture. First published by the Oriental Institute in 1993, the book launched a renaissance in the field and remains an OI bestseller even now in its fourth printing.

“Ritner’s use of original source materials added unique perspective to his groundbreaking work,” said OI research associate Foy Scalf. “He studied the original language from different periods and desired to have the Egyptians speak for themselves to gain an unfiltered view of ancient Egypt in his work.” 

Twenty-One UChicago Faculty Receive Named, Distinguished Service Professorships

University of Chicago campus

Twenty-one University of Chicago faculty members have received distinguished service professorships or named professorships.

President Robert J. Zimmer and incoming President Paul Alivisatos have received distinguished service professorships, along with Profs. Bariş Ata, Jing Chen, Frederick de Armas, Jean-Pierre Dubé, Martha Feldman, Michael Kremer, Thomas Lamarre, David Levin, Susan Levine, Adekunle Odunsi and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg.

Profs. Sanjay Dhar, Roberto Lang, Stacy Tessler Lindau, Josephine McDonagh, Kenneth Moss, Sianne Ngai, Willemien Otten and Lawrence Zbikowski have received named professorships.

Lauren Berlant, Preeminent Literary Scholar and Cultural Theorist, 1957–2021

Lauren Berlant photo by Robert Kozloff

Prof. Lauren Berlant, a world-renowned scholar who examined what sentimentality means in American culture for gender, sexuality and politics, died June 28 of a rare form of cancer. A beloved mentor and esteemed colleague who spent nearly four decades at the University of Chicago, Berlant was 63 years old.

Remembered by colleagues for their immense pedagogical curiosity, their perceptive interpretations of American literature, politics and culture and their collaborative prowess, Berlant gave readers the tools for understanding the complicated interactions between self and society.

The George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, Berlant was a leading theorist whose impact stretched across disciplinary lines. They sought to define the desires and emotions that compel people to create forms of life that support a sense of belonging, and the complex ways in which gender, race, citizenship, class, and sexuality affect and mold those attachments.

Longtime Journal Editor W. J. T. Mitchell Reflects on Career, the Loss of His Son

W. J. T. Mitchell

The year 2020 marked two milestones for Prof. W. J. T. Mitchell: He ended his 42-year tenure as editor of the interdisciplinary arts and humanities journal Critical Inquiry and published his first non-academic book. That work, Mental Traveler: A Father, a Son, and a Journey through Schizophrenia, is a memoir of his son Gabrielʼs 20-year battle with schizophrenia and subsequent death by suicide in 2012.

Mitchell was the second person to lead Critical Inquiry, taking over in 1978 upon the death of founding editor Sheldon Sacks, PhDʼ60, professor of English and linguistics. The journalʼs influence grew steadily under his watch; 25 years later, the New York Times called it “academeʼs most prestigious theory journal.”

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