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Hans Wilhelm Frei Papers

Call Number: RG 76

Scope and Contents

These papers document in a thorough way the last two decades of Frei's professional career - his writings, lectures, courses taught at Yale, and university-related activities. Hundreds of letters and myriad legal-size yellow notepads combine to illustrate in vivid ways the Frei traits mentioned by colleagues at his memorial service: "intellectual powers of the highest order", "unparalleled generosity and subtlety of sensibility", "modesty", "candid honesty", "warm fairness", "academic parent", "a great teacher", "departmental and university citizen". One cannot read through these papers without sharing in some small way the "unutterable sense of loss" experienced by his colleagues and friends at the time of his death. (Phrases taken from the tributes offered by David Kelsey, George Lindbeck, Wayne Meeks, and Gene Outka at the memorial service for Frei, September 22, 1988. See Box 27, Folder 339)

The Correspondence of Series I dates from 1972 to 1988 and is primarily with colleagues, editors, publishers, students and former students. There is no family correspondence. Some letters relate to his activities as Master of Ezra Stiles college (1972-1980) but the majority deal with academic and professional matters. Frequent correspondents include: William Clebsch, George Hunsinger, Paul Meyer, Gordon Michalson, Jr., Paul Ramsey, Ronald Thiemann and Charles Wood. Substantive letters to Gary Comstock and William Placher include notable exposition of Frei's thought. There is relatively little correspondence with Yale colleagues.

Frei's extensive involvement in Yale University affairs is documented in Series II, Professional Activities / Projects / Committees, but it is clear that a substantial amount of decision making and discussion in the Yale sphere was done in personal or telephone conversation.

Documentation of Frei's Writings in Series III is quite complete. A bibliography of Frei's works in the first folder of the Series provides more complete bibliographical information than is available in the folder listings. Published and unpublished articles, lectures, reviews and papers are included in various formats - offprints, photocopies, handwritten and typescript. Early drafts of Frei's booklength publications are not included. Reflections written for weddings and memorial services, in the Sermons/addresses/prayers section of the Series provide insight into Frei's sensibility. Some of the writings have been transcribed and are available online: see

The Course-related Material of Series IV includes syllabi, collected articles, and exam questions, but is primarily comprised of notes and lectures written out on the yellow legal-size notepads for which Frei was renowned. The material in this Series, as in most of the others, dates only from the last two decades of Frei's life.

Series V, Collected Material, includes scholarly writings by others in both typescript and published formats. Some of the typescript papers sent to Frei by colleagues may have been published at a later time. Some of the writings in this Series are annotated extensively by Frei. The Series also includes a sampling of dissertation drafts and comprehensive exam questions for Frei's graduate students and a few student papers collected by Frei which were not written for his courses. Additional collected writings are to be found amidst the course-related materials of Series IV.

Series VI, Personal Items and Memorabilia, contains a small assortment of material documenting Frei's life and work. Various versions of his curriculum vitae are included, as well as his calendar/date books for the years 1959 to 1977. Also included in this Series are samples of the letters of recommendation for which Frei was renowned.


  • 1953-1992


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Geraldine Frei.


  1. I. Correspondence, 1972-1988
  2. II. Professional Activities / Committees / Projects, 1972-1988
  3. III. Writings, 1957-1992
  4. IV. Course-related Material, 1967-1988
  5. V. Collected Material
  6. VI. Personal Items and Memorabilia, 1959-1988


12 Linear Feet (28 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document in a thorough way the last two decades of Frei's professional career - his writings, lectures, courses taught at Yale, and University-related activities. Hans Wilhelm Frei was born in Germany in 1922, attended secondary school in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1938. He received a B.S. from North Carolina State College, a B.D. from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Yale. He was professor of religion at Wabash College and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest before joining the Yale faculty in 1957. Frei served as Master of Ezra Stiles College from 1972 to 1980. He was chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale from 1983 to 1986. He died in 1988.

Biographical / Historical

1922 April 29
Born in Breslau, Germany to Wilhelm and Magda Frankfurter Frei; his father was on the medical faculty of the University of Breslau
Attended Friends' School, Saffron Walden, Essex, England
Emigrated to United States
B.S., North Carolina State College
B.D., Yale Divinity School
Minister, First Baptist Church, North Stratford, New Hampshire
Entered Graduate School of Yale University
Married Geraldine Frost Nye -- children: Thomas (1952), Jonathan (1955), Emily (1957)
Assistant Professor of Religion, Wabash College, Indiana
Associate Professor of Theology, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest
Visiting Lecturer, Southern Methodist University
Ph.D., Yale University
Professor of Theology, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Yale University
Morse Fellow; Fulbright Award for research at the University of Göttingen, Germany
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Yale
American Association of Theological Schools Fellowship and Yale Senior Faculty Fellowship for research at Cambridge, England
Acting Master, Silliman College
Master, Ezra Stiles College
Professor of Religious Studies, Yale
Chairman, Council of Masters
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar director at Yale; taught "Modernity as Temptation", course for college teachers
George F. Thomas Memorial Lecture, Princeton University
Shaffer Lectures, Yale Divinity School
Chairman, Department of Religious Studies, Yale
Edward Cadbury Lectures, University of Birmingham, England
1988 September 12
Guide to the Hans Wilhelm Frei Papers
Compiled by Nathan H. Price and Martha Lund Smalley
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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