First recipient of Schafer-Friesen Research Fellowship conducts research on Anabaptist theology and engineering

Karl Kienitz

The Mennonite Historical Library (MHL) at Goshen College recently received a $100,000 gift from Geraldine Schafer Friesen and her husband Dr. Abraham Friesen to endow the Schafer-Friesen Research Fellowship.

The fellowship will bring researchers from around the world to use the rare resources in the MHL. The first researcher supported by the funds, Karl H. Kienitz, an engineer from Brazil, arrived at Goshen College on June 28, 2015.

During his stay at the MHL, Kienitz focused his attention on Pilgram Marpeck, a 16th century lay Anabaptist theologian and engineer in France and Germany. Throughout the 20th century, significant information has surfaced about Marpeck and his contributions as an engineer as well as to the Reformation.

“For some time I had been aware of the ‘rediscovery’ of Marpeck and his writings and I felt the necessity to formalize what Christian engineers can learn from his life and thought,” said Kienitz.

Kienitz was baptized in a Mennonite Brethren church, claims an Anabaptist identity and thanks God for his profession as an engineer, a profession that he has actively sought to bring into conversation with his Christian convictions. He has a personal website that contains reflections on his understanding of the relationship between science and faith. Both have often been perceived as polarized or in conflict with one another.

“In my teenage years, I accepted God’s love and its consequences for my personal life,” said Kienitz. “I always made good grades in mathematics and natural sciences, but the so-called ‘conflict’ between science and Christian faith, propagated by some of my teachers, did not make any sense to me.”

For Kienitz, his research on Marpeck reflected similar themes, particularly how Marpeck’s theology affected the ethical and social aspects of his career as an engineer. The outcome of Kienitz’ research includes a paper, which he hopes to publish. He will also continue his research with more biographies and writings of Christian engineers as well as furthering his study of Marpeck’s writings.

“We are delighted that Karl was the inaugural recipient of the Schafer-Friesen award,” said Roth. “His project is a great example of a creative project that might not have happened without the scholarship.”

The fellowship is awarded annually by the MHL to encourage researchers to use resources from its holdings, the world’s most comprehensive collection of Anabaptist, Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite printed materials. The secondary use of the grant goes to supporting publications on Reformation and Anabaptist topics. The grant will cover travel costs and up to three weeks of room and board.

John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen College and MHL director, has played a significant role in getting the grant up and running.

“The MHL is truly a world-class collection,” said Roth. “We have people from all over the world using our resources. But at the same time, we want to make the collection even more visible to researchers.”

The Friesens committed to give this gift in 2010, and fully funded the fellowship in 2014.

The future looks bright for the scholarship, as it will provide opportunities to bring researchers from around the world to Goshen.

“Having the possibility of providing travel funds, covering lodging costs and encouraging publications of current research gives us an opportunity to bring scholars and researchers from all around the world to the MHL,” said Roth. “I would especially be pleased if the fellowship would support the work of younger scholars in the future,” he added.

Abraham and Geraldine Shafer Friesen and John D. Roth
Abraham and Geraldine Shafer Friesen and Goshen College Professor of History John D. Roth

The scholarship was established in honor of Geraldine Friesen’s aunt, Laura Schafer Martens. Martens graduated from Goshen College in 1947 with a degree in home economics and served as teacher for 23 years at Shafter High School in California, while also serving in a variety of ways that supported the interests of children and young mothers.

The scholarship carries extra weight in light of the fact Geraldine Friesen passed away last spring

Friesen, known as Gerry to all who knew and loved her, was born in 1935 in Lodi, California. She was raised in North Dakota with her two sisters and brother and graduated from Fessenden High School in North Dakota. She went on to pursue higher education from both Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas and Pacific Bible Institute in Fresno, California.

In 1962, Friesen married her husband, Abe. In their 53 years of marriage the two lived and traveled to a variety of places including Winnipeg, Manitoba; Menlo Park, California; Mainz, Germany; and Fresno, California.

Friesen is survived by her husband Abraham, her son and daughter-in-law Eric and Ruthanna and her three granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.

To apply for the fellowship, researchers should send a letter of interest, along with a one-page research plan and budget to John D. Roth, MHL Goshen College, 1700 S. Main St., Goshen, IN 46526.

– By Dominique Chew ’15