Education Is an Act of Faith

That’s what Eric O. Hanson wrote in the pages of this magazine once.

He was known to affix to the top of syllabi for his courses this epigraph: “Everything is connected in life. The point is to know it and to understand it.” He took the words from a postcard sent to him by a student who graduated years before. He was a teacher, scholar, and soccer fan extraordinare.

Eric devoted more than 41 years to Santa Clara, earning respect and affection from colleagues and students as a professor of political science. He was beloved. “He served the University superbly in so many roles,” said President Michael Engh, S.J.

He was perhaps the single most devoted faculty fan of SCU women’s soccer. He rarely missed a home game. “Certainly he enoyed watching the team win,” said Coach Jerry Smith. “But like all great educators, he enjoyed what must go into preparation and attention to detail.”

He taught comparative politics, Chinese politics, and religion and politics, winning the University’s Brutocao Award for excellence in teaching. He published books on politics and religion in China and Korea and globally. And in 1987 he and current California Gov. Jerry Brown ’59 teamed up to provide many hours of televised commentary on Pope John Paul II’s three-day visit to the Bay Area.

“Eric always encouraged his students to be present to the entire world,” wrote historian Robert M. Senkewicz. “He tried to teach them that that world was filled with other people who were, in important ways, unlike Americans, people who thought and acted differently, people who looked at the world in significantly divergent ways.”

He loved to dress in historical costume for some lectures; when teaching the importance of the Long March as central to China’s identity, he might be spotted hustling to class sporting a Mao hat, or with a rolled-up map under one arm.

Eric never talked about his abundant achievements. He did express pride—and often—but always pride in others. “In a culture where self-promotion, one-upsmanship, oversharing, and cynicism are so prevalent, Eric Hanson was a steady countercultural force,” wrote political scientist Elsa Chen. “Over the years, whenever I’ve thought of Eric, the term that comes to mind the most is one in the Taiwanese language: kó-ì. This describes a person who is genuine, honest, considerate, and down-to-earth.”

We lost him on July 7, after he had struggled for five months with illness. His wife, Kathleen Hanson, and his daughters, Erin Katharine Collins ’97 and Kara Hanson, and three grandchildren mourn his loss, as does his brother, Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts to the University in his honor.

post-image Eric Hanson: master teacher and a scholar, and the Patrick A. Donohoe, S.J., Professor of Political Science since 1993. Photography by Charles Barry
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