For Dr. Frederick Downing, MA '84, Clarence Jordan is a contemporary saint. He first learned of the 20th-century Georgia farmer, biblical scholar and founder of Koinonia Farm who would become the subject of his third biography when he was in graduate school.
"He quickly became important to me the older I grew and the more I developed personally," Downing says. This was especially true as Downing lived through and observed the religious and political shift to the right in both the country in general and the South in particular. Downing says that Jordan is a case study for religion in tension with culture, that the farmer and scholar challenged cultural views of religion. "I hope that my readers will be challenged by the story of Clarence Jordan," Downing says, "and particularly as an exemplar of radical Christian faith over and against cultural views that demean human beings."
According to Downing, this book, along with his previous two – religious biographies on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elie Wiesel – were deeply influenced by his time at Princeton Theological Seminary while he pursued his master’s in theological studies. He considers his educational experience at Princeton one of the most important and formative times of his life. Specifically, working with Drs. James Loder and Don Capps and visiting professor James Fowler taught him a methodology of religious biography that he has utilized in all three of his books.
"James Loder introduced me to the writings and theories of Erik Erikson, and I eventually wrote my master's thesis with Loder," Downing explains. "The thesis was on Martin Luther King, Jr. and formed the basis for my later book." Through Loder, Downing also met and worked with Don Capps, who was an Erikson specialist, and even considered applying to do doctoral work with him the area of religion and personality. Though this never worked out, Downing says "there will always be a special place in my work and memory for the time of study in Princeton. It was a formative and profoundly influential time."
[To read a summary of Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences, or to purchase it online, click here.]