Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Wach, Joaquim

Joachim Wach (1898-1955), professor of Biblical literature, was born in Chemnitz, Saxony, Germany, on January 25, 1898. He was named Joachim Ernst Adolphe Felix Wach. His father was with the Saxonian government and his mother was a great-granddaughter of composer Felix Mendelssohn. His early schooling took place in Dresden. He enlisted in the German army in 1916, saw action as a cavalry officer, and became aide-de-camp to a district commissioner in “White Russia.” After the war, he pursued his studies between 1919 and 1922 at the Universities of Munich, Berlin, Freiburg, and Leipzig, where he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1922. After more work at the University of Heidelberg, he became an instructor at the University of Leipzig. He was made a Professor Extraordinary in 1929, and was awarded a Doctor of Theology degree at Heidelberg in 1930. After leaving Nazi Germany, he came in the fall of 1935 to Brown, where, as visiting professor of biblical literature, he taught courses in the sociology of religion, religious philosophies of the Orient, and the nature and principles of religious development. He was named associate professor in 1939 and taught until 1946. Raised as a Lutheran, he became an Episcopalian shortly after coming to the United States. He was widely quoted in newspapers six months after his arrival when he expressed surprise at how hard American college students have to work. His publications include Das Verstehn, a three-volume work on the theory of general interpretations, published between 1926 and 1932, An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion in 1932, and Sociology of Religion in 1944. His travels took him to all the countries in Europe except England, and to North Africa, where he went to observe Mohammedan customs. He continued teaching at Brown until 1946. When Wach, who had first taken out his citizenship papers in 1938, applied for United States citizenship in 1946, his first petition in February was denied and his second in August granted. In the fall of that year he became professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago. There he was remembered as being always surrounded by students. A colleague said of him, “Appropriately he regards himself a guru ... a combination of father-confessor, protector, and teacher. To him the professor-student relationship was a sacred one.” He died on August 27, 1955 in Locarno, Switzerland. His last book, The Comparative Study of Religions, which he was working on when he died, was completed by his sister, Susi Heigl-Wach, and his colleague, Joseph Kitagawa.