Skip to main content

Sydney Ahlstrom Papers

Call Number: RG 83

Scope and Contents

These papers document in a very thorough way Ahlstrom's professional career, his writings, lectures, courses taught at Yale, his extensive participation in scholarly and church-related organizations. Conditions at Yale and in New Haven during the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s are well documented. A sampling of material has been preserved to document Ahlstrom's renowned personality, his sense of humor, curiosity, and wide-ranging interests.

A small section of family correspondence in Series I provides a view into Ahlstrom's Minnesota connections and warm family relationships. General correspondence dating from 1946 to 1979 includes letters to and from friends, colleagues, editors, publishers, and church representatives. Correspondents include Yale colleagues James Gustafson, Hans Frei, and Julian Hartt, as well as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Paul Ramsey, Samuel H. Miller, Robert Handy, Bruce Kuklick, and others. Substantive letters deal not only with academic and professional affairs, but also document Ahlstrom's opinions on a wide range of issues, his friendships, and family life. Revealing of strongly held convictions are letters such as one written to J.B. Buckley, manager of the Yellow Cab Company in New Haven, which protests against the unjust treatment of a poor black family by a cabdriver in a scene witnessed by Ahlstrom. The section of correspondence with students provides insight into Ahlstrom's interaction with his students. Correspondence related to Ahlstrom's writings, lecture appearances, and other specific events or activities can also be found in Series II, III and VI.

Series II, Committees and Projects, contains correspondence and other material related to the many institutions, organizations, committees, and projects with which Ahlstrom was involved. Ahlstrom's career-long interests and involvement in Lutheranism, higher education, and American religious history are documented, as well as his participation in a variety of short-term, specific projects.

The Writings of Series III constitute the bulk of this collection. Articles and unpublished papers, contributions to booklength works, letters to editors, book reviews by Ahlstrom and documentation related to his booklength works are included. Sermons and lectures delivered by Ahlstrom are filed with supporting documentation in Series VI.

Series IV, Course-related Material, includes primarily lecture notes, syllabi, exams, and reading lists. These materials date from 1946 to 1984. Material from his popular interdepartmental American Church History Survey course includes more than 2 1/2 boxes of lecture notes of one word per page. His deteriorating health prevented him from reading long pages of lecture notes. Moreover, his delivery was personal and conversational, and the system of one-word-per-page best served his lecturing style.

Ahlstrom was an inveterate collector of newspaper clippings, cartoons, concert programs, articles, offprints, and anything else that happened to touch upon one of his varied interests. The Collected Material of Series V represents a sampling of the mass of such materials present in Ahlstrom's offices at the time of his death. The largest section of material retained in this Series, collected material related to the fields of history, religion, and education, includes primarily offprints and articles sent to Ahlstrom by his colleagues, friends, and former students.

Series VI, Biographical Documentation, traces Ahlstrom's activities other than his long-term committee and project involvements and his regular teaching commitments at Yale. The series primarily documents one-time events such as conferences, lectures, seminars, awards, etc. Included are many holograph and typescript texts for Ahlstrom's various guest lecture appearances, sermons, and chapel talks dating from his graduation from Gustavus Adolphus until his death in 1984. Ahlstrom was much in demand as a lecturer, and his speaking engagements took him all over the country and as far as Japan and Australia. Other events that highlight his extra-curricular life include his involvement with nineteen other Lutheran scholars in a statement supporting John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential election and a Religion in America television show in 1974. "In Memory of Ahlstrom," by George Lindbeck and a journal tribute are also included. The series ends with miscellaneous material including Ahlstrom's own bibliographies and curriculum vitae.


  • 1931-1988


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Nancy Ahlstrom,


  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Committees and Projects
  3. III. Writings
  4. IV. Course-related Material
  5. V. Collected Material
  6. VI. Biographical Documentation


20 Linear Feet (49 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 Ahlstrom's professional career, his writings, lectures, courses taught at Yale, his extensive participation in scholarly and church-related organizations. Conditions at Yale and in New Haven during the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s are well documented. Correspondence documents his friendships, family life, and professional affairs, revealing his opinions on a wide range of issues, his sense of humor and warm personality. The collection includes material relating to the many institutions, organizations, committees, and projects with which Ahlstrom was involved, particularly in the areas of Lutheranism, higher education and American religious history. Sydney E. Ahlstrom was born in Cokato, Minnesota on December 16, 1919. He taught at Yale from 1954 to 1984 . He was the author of several notable books on religion in America. Ahlstrom held prominent positions on various boards and organizations, including the Editorial Board of the Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards, the American Studies Program and Religious Studies Department at Yale, and the American Society of Church History. Ahlstrom died in New Haven in 1984.

Biographical / Historical

1919 December 16
Sydney Eckman Ahlstrom born in Cokato, Minnesota, son of Joseph T. and Selma Eckman Ahlstrom
B.A. Gustavus Adolphus College
U.S. Army, Captain
Instructor in history, Gustavus Adolphus
M.A. University of Minnesota
Teaching fellow and history tutor, Harvard University
Fulbright fellow, University of Strasbourg, France
Faculty member, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, Austria
Ph.D. Harvard, Instructor in history
1953 Aug 8
Married Nancy Ethel Alexander (Children: J. Alexander, b. 1954; Promise, b. 1955; Constance, b. 1957; Sydney, b. 1960)
Fellow, Branford College, Yale
Assistant Professor of Modern Church History and American History, Yale University
The Harvard Divinity School published (co-author)
Lutheran World Federation lecturer in various countries of Europe
Associate Professor, Yale
The Shaping of American Religion published (co-author)
1962 Spring
Visiting Professor, Princeton University
The American Protestant Encounter with World Religions (Brewer Lectures, Beloit College) published
Full Professor, Yale
Research in Paris, France
Calvinism and the Political Order published (co-author)
Chair, American Studies Program, Yale
Rauschenbusch Lecturer, Colgate Rochester Divinity School
Theology in America published
Research in Munich, Germany
1972 Summer
Visiting Professor, Kyoto Summer Seminar in American Studies, Japan
A Religious History of the American People published
Director of Graduate Studies, Religious Studies Department, Yale
National Book Award Recipient
1973 Summer
Scholar-in-Resident, Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, Colorado
Chair, Consulting Committee on the National Bicentenary of the Lutheran Church in America
Chair, American Studies Program, Yale
Brotherhood Award of the National Council of Christians and Jews
Visiting Lecturer at universities and professional conferences in Australia and New Zealand
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Upsala College, New Jersey
President, American Society of Church History
Honorary Doctor of Letters, Susquehanna University
Religious Dilemmas of Nationhood published (editor)
Rockefeller Fellowship for research on Romanticism
Samuel Knight Professor of American History and Modern Religious History, Yale
The Christian Century Award for the Decade's Most Outstanding Book on Religion
Died in New Haven, Connecticut
  1. Member, Editorial Board of the Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards
  2. Member, Board of Trustees of Gustavus Adolphus
  3. Elected Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1978
  4. Elected Corresponding Member, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1977
Guide to the Sydney Ahlstrom Papers
Compiled by Dineen K. Dowling 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.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

409 Prospect Street
New Haven CT 06511 US
(203) 432-5301

Opening Hours