In Memoriam: Allan Silver, Professor Emeritus of Sociology

March 30, 2016
Allan Silver Columbia University In Memoriam

A memorial service for Allan Silver, a longtime Columbia sociologist who died in November, will be held Sunday, April 3 in the University's International Affairs Building.

Professor Silver, who was 85, joined the Columbia faculty in 1964. Befitting his remarkable intellectual breadth, his teaching in the Core Curriculum included both Contemporary Civilization, which addresses social and political theory from ancient Greece to the present, and Literature Humanities, which encompasses literature and philosophy over a similarly wide time span. Eileen Gillooly, executive director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities, noted Professor Silver’s “passion for the Core texts and their ability to bring into sharp focus the hardest questions about what it means to be human.”

His writings spanned a wide geographic, temporal, substantive and disciplinary range. Informing all of them, however, was a deeply sociological imagination that combined theoretical sophistication, historical depth and insightful attentiveness to the subtle interplay between social structure and cultural understandings.

Allan Silver: A Commemorative Celebration
Sunday, April 3, 2:00-7:00 pm
International Affairs Building
118th St. and Amsterdam Ave., 15th floor

Professor Silver’s most influential work—recognized as foundational by historians—addressed ideals of friendship and trust in a historical perspective. More recently, he also pursued two other lines of research. One, reflecting the influence of his mentor Morris Janowitz, one of the founders of modern sociology, concerned the historically changing relation between military institutions, war and democratic citizenship. Professor Silver analyzed the implications of the decline of mass conscript armies in the post-World War II era for the practice of democratic citizenship.

His second line of research was the analysis of traditional Jewish texts in light of the concerns of modern political theory. French sociologist Pierre Birnbaum, who taught at the Sorbonne until his recent retirement, observed that Professor Silver's work on Jewish theory "is superb," although less known than his other research. Social scientist Michael Walzer, a professor emeritus at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Studies, commented that Professor Silver “wrote beautifully about the moment in biblical history when the Israelite elders come to Samuel to ask for a king—in place of God. This, he said, was the critical political moment, for politics requires the rejection of divine help and a readiness to rely on human coping.” 

“Allan was a teacher of the highest order, a scholar of the deepest learning, and a person of consummate integrity and extraordinary delicacy of feeling and insight—a beautiful and noble soul,” said sociologist Rogers Brubaker of UCLA, who “had the great privilege of being Allan’s student in the 1980s.” [You can read the full text of Rogers Brubaker’s remembrance of Professor Silver on the Department of Sociology website.]

Professor Silver is survived by his wife, Victoria Koroteyeva, and by two nieces, Marilyn Kravitz and Elaine Arena.