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Remembering Dr. Jane Hurst

Remembering Dr. Jane Hurst

Dr. Jane Hurst passed away on June 2 at 72 years of age. She was a well-respected and popular professor of philosophy and religion from 1981 to 2010, and a tireless champion for emerging religious groups and marginalized populations. She also served many diverse communities through her ministry, research, music, and volunteer work.

Jane D. Hurst grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and completed her Ph.D. in Religion at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1981. The same year, she joined the Gallaudet Department of Philosophy and Religion. She served as department chair from 2000 to 2010, when she retired.

Dr. Hurst is remembered as a student-centered teacher who prioritized the well being of her students as much as their intellectual development. Former student Nathan Gomme, ‘05, reflects, “I have always had this thirst to learn, so it was such a unique treat to have a teacher and mentor with such an unmatched desire to both quench my thirst and at the same time touch the soul of her students the way Jane did ... Jane, thank you for being ever present in our lives.” Joshua Miller, ’10, another former student and current Gallaudet employee, wrote, “Dr. Hurst made us feel good about ourselves and made it okay for everyone to have disagreements and co-exist in the classroom. Her merry spirit was absolutely contagious.” 

Dr. Hurst taught standard offerings such as Comparative Religion, as well as more creative options like Gender and Religion and Native American Beadwork, which combined spirituality, cultural appreciation, and artistic expression. Recalls Joshua Miller, “In one of our courses, Dr. Hurst used our class fee to purchase bead loom kits for us, and after showing us how to start our own beadwork, had us create several pieces as part of our homework. This was an enjoyable and stress-relieving activity. When we brought our work back to Dr. Hurst in class, she explained the value of self-care in education, and connected the significance of our work to the significance of what beadwork means to certain cultures we were studying. No book or reading assignment could have made me understand that better.”

Dr. Hurst was fond of ending courses with the standing invitation, “If there is an afterlife, we’ll continue class discussion there!”

According to long-time colleague Dr. Barbara Stock, “Dr. Hurst's scholarly work tended to focus on emerging religious movements and unique or marginalized groups, rather than the mainstream of religious traditions. For instance, she was interested in the phenomenon of religious ‘cults’ -- as unknown religious groups are often labeled -- and how they socialize their members. She also investigated connections between homophobia and religious institutions, as well as religious attitudes toward disability.” 

Dr. Shirley Shultz Myers, another colleague, added, “Caring passionately about the well-being of our country and the world, as well as our world at Gallaudet, Jane posted often on her Facebook page on political and social issues. Her strong moral compass guided her to speak truth to power; she was not afraid to join unpopular stands.”

Dr. Hurst was instrumental in establishing a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter on campus in 2000. This provided a safe space for LGBTQ students to come out and discuss issues with their family, in a time when Gallaudet had not yet committed staff resources in support of these students. For years, it was the only PFLAG chapter in the area that was accessible bilingually and for a time, the only PFLAG chapter in the District of Columbia. In the aftermath of 9/11, she co-chaired the 2002 Gallaudet Diversity Day program, focusing on religious diversity.

In 2006, Dr. Hurst was ordained as an interfaith minister through The New Seminary in New York City. In this capacity, she was the officiant for a number of weddings. Upon retiring from teaching, she completed training as a hospice volunteer, then nurtured patients of the Washington Home and Community Hospices through the last stage of their lives. 

Dr. Hurst had a deep love for music, knitting, weaving, beadwork, and other arts and crafts. She wrote and performed her own music, and was a choir member with the U.S. Slave Song Project. She also led the musical program in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her latest passion was historic reenactment, preparing to play the role of abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe by researching Stowe’s life and putting together historically accurate clothing. As recently as 2018, Dr. Hurst played the role of Mrs. Merriweather in Seeds of Hope: The Andrew Jackson Foster Story, directed and produced by Gary Brooks, ’95.

Dr. Hurst is survived by her husband, Dr. Joseph Murphy; their daughters, Mary Murphy and Anna Murphy; son-in-law Kiel Johnson, and her sisters, Melissa Hurst and Cynthia Downing. Her home in Takoma Park, Maryland was a joyful place where a warm welcome always awaited visitors -- including at the much-anticipated annual St. Patrick’s Day party. The family also had a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard, and Jane developed a community of friends there. She and her family doted on their pets through the years, including her cat, Blackie, and her dog, Fiona.

Due to the pandemic, there was no funeral. The family will hold a memorial service at a later date, when those who cherished her can come together in person. Says Dr. Stock, “Jane would want there to be much hugging.”

Posted by Darrius Doe | Posted August 7, 2020 at 2:49 PM

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Washington, DC 20002