Department History

Montclair State's Philosophy and Religion Department: A brief history of the work ever in-progress, by Stephen Johnson

In the late 1960s, when Montclair State grew from Teachers College to full-service College under the leadership of President Thomas Richardson, Dean Phillip Cohen sponsored Dr. George Brantl's founding of the Department of Philosophy and Religion — the only such joint department in New Jersey. Their bold vision was farsighted, and their timing perfect, as academic studies of religion (totally different from seminary-related curricula) were coming into their own. Montclair State students would not graduate without critical exposure to the riches of the world's religious and philosophical traditions, and to their roles and powers in world cultures and history. So the founder, a compassionate man beloved campus-wide in a day when faculty of all departments knew each other well, began. Before finishing, through a process of trial-and-error, this mentor of high and honest standards whose first priority was the students, built a full-time faculty of twelve scholars with distinguished doctorates, full of devoted classroom energies. 

Institutionally part of Dean Bernard Fleischmann's School of Humanities, Dr. Brantl began his long-term building in 1969 by hiring young Heideggarian philosopher Tom Bridges, who would succeed him as chair nine years later; 19th-century-theology specialist Robert Streetman, who would serve as deputy chair until his death twenty years later; and Ralph Carson, a blind and memorable African-American Scripture Studies professor who would be replaced four years later. The following year he added social-political philosopher David Scott, who would be replaced three years later. In 1971 the dynamic trinity of Brantl, Bridges, and Streetman hired Chris Hill, an analytic philosopher who would leave two years later, and Steve Johnson, a specialist in H. Richard Niebuhr, who proved a keeper. In 1972 the young department grew by three members, all of whom would stay: Larry Stanton, a brilliant young philosopher with the soul of an Irish mystic and revolutionary; Eva Fleischner, a Catholic studies specialist who was already becoming an authority in Holocaust studies; and Mat Lipman, a senior scholar and visionary hired for the purpose of founding something he called the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children. 

A senior source from those earliest days says there was more directive wisdom in Brantl's department-building than his new faculty realized, that he deliberately balanced more than academic specialties by complementing Bridges with Streetman with Johnson, and Stanton with Fleischner. They followed their founder's example in 1973, when they brought the department to full size — and programmatic possibilities — by adding four tenure-track professors, all of whom would make their career at Montclair State. Each wonderfully talented and deliciously different from the other, these were David Benfield, a logician and analytic philosopher already becoming a specialist in philosophy of law; Michael Kogan, a specialist in Jewish studies and Scripture scholarship; Adele McCollum, a myth-and-ritual scholar of world religions and pioneer of women's studies; and Ken Aman, hired to serve both the philosophy majors with his social-and-political scholarship, and the religion studies majors with his growing Latin American and popular culture specialties.