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Norvin Hein Papers

Call Number: RG 310

Scope and Contents

This collection provides a glimpse into the professional life of Yale Divinity School graduate and Yale professor of comparative religion Norvin Hein (1914-2018). The documents selected for inclusion in the collection serve to highlight the major emphases of Hein's career - his extensive correspondence with students and colleagues, his involvement at Yale both in teaching and in the "Save the Quad" movement of the late 1990s, his writings and scholarly research, his administrative contributions to Yale, and his involvement in community activities such as the Cooperative Consumers of New Haven group.

The correspondence in Series I consists of letters between Hein and colleagues in his field both in America and abroad, students, and colleagues and administration at YDS.

For additional materials related to the "Save the Quad" documentation in Series II, see Record Group 53, Yale Divinity School Memorabilia Collection.

Course-Related materials in Series III include articles used in classes, book lists, bibliographies, lecture notes, and syllabi for courses taught by Hein. The materials pertaining to courses Hein himself took include his personal student notes.

For additional writings by Hein, see Record Group 27, Yale Divinity School Faculty Writings and Publications, Box 11. For additional "Save the Quad" documentation see Record Group 53, Yale Divinity School Memorabilia Collection.

Series VII contains rare film footage of the 1942 wedding of Indira Nehru to Feroze Gandhi, taken by Norvin Hein. An accompanying script describes the scenes in the film.


  • 1942 - 2018


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Norvin Hein family, 2018, 2020


The collection is organized in eight series:

Series I. Correspondence

Series II. "Save the Quad" Documentation

Series III. Course-Related Records

Series IV. YDS/Yale Administrative Records

Series V. Writings and Notes

Series VI. Subject Files

Series VII. Audio-Visual Material

Series VIII. Biographical Documentation


6 Linear Feet (14 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection provides an overview of Norvin Hein's long career as professor of comparative religion with a focus on Hinduism, serving on the Yale Divinity School and Religious Studies faculties for thirty-five years from 1950 until his retirement in 1985.

Biographical / Historical

Norvin Hein was born in 1914 in Ohio. He attended Wooster College, graduating in 1937. He was offered a teaching position in India following graduation, but since it would not begin for two years, he elected to attend Yale Divinity School. He interrupted his Bachelor of Divinity studies to take what was supposed to be a short-term position teaching English and religion in India, but World War II intervened. He ended up spending most of the war years in India, working for the Army YMCA and the crew of a U.S. Liberty Ship before serving as a chaplain’s yeoman in a U.S. Maritime Service training station.

In 1945 Hein returned to Yale where he received his B.D. in 1946 and his Ph.D. in 1951. The religious practices that he had observed in India—religious street theater, especially—awakened him to an essential site-specific aspect of religion and forms of devotion that sprang from agrarian tradition. This became the focus of his dissertation and an eventual book, The Miracle Plays of Mathura (Yale, 1972).

Hein was appointed assistant professor at Yale in 1952, earning promotion to associate professor in 1958 and then full professor in 1975. From 1973 to 1976, Norvin was director of the S.T.M. program at YDS. He was Director of Graduate Studies in Yale’s Department of Religious Studies from 1977 to 1985.

During the "Save the Quad" movement at Yale Divinity School in the late-1990s Hein played a crucial role in the successful effort to protect Sterling Divinity Quadrangle from demolition and keep YDS in its longtime home atop Prospect Hill. He did so by combing through legal documents pertaining to the bequest of John Sterling B.A. 1864, in which he discovered provisions that strengthened the Divinity School’s case.

In addition to The Miracle Plays of Mathura, Hein authored and contributed to more than a dozen books and published more than two-dozen scholarly articles and reviews. Among his more enduring scholarly contributions was the 100-page section on Hinduism that he wrote for the well-known Religions of the World textbook (St. Martin’s, 1983). Hein served as both Vice President and President of the American Society for the Study of Religion during the 1970s. He was a delegate and panelist at five different congresses of the International Association for the History of Religions.

Hein remained in the New Haven area following his retirement and continued his scholarly work, and his engagement at Yale and in the community. He died on April 29, 2018.

Guide to the Norvin Hein Papers
Divinity Library staff
2019, 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

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