Obituary: Ivan Varga, 1931-2012
October 27, 2012
Ivan Varga lived many lives. One of them involved everlasting devotion to the ISA and in particular to RC22 (Sociology of Religion), for which he is remembered fondly by many. The following obituary was written by his wife and daughter, Eva Varga and Christina Varga.
Dr. Ivan Varga stood up for what he believed in, no matter how dangerous or unpopular his opinions. He was from an assimilated Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. During the Second World War, he would go out without his yellow star outside curfew hours for Jews, in order to get more food rations, thus risking being picked up and being shot into the Danube River.
He survived that, only to see the dream of liberation by the Russians turn into the nightmare of an oppressive regime. But he didn’t keep a low profile; rather spoke and wrote critically about the regime, making him a target during Hungary’s uprising in 1956. He escaped to Poland, and when it was safer for him to return to Hungary, found himself blacklisted from working for years.
After the war, he studied with luminaries such as Georg Lukács, later earning his doctorate. He and Eva Launsky married in 1961 and Christina was born in 1968.
Having acquired several languages, including English, Ivan was allowed to leave Hungary to teach at the university in Tanzania, accompanied by his family. But after the four-year stint was up, they decided to defect, leaving a known but grey future in Hungary for a completely unknown future in the West. They landed in Germany, bringing nothing but their clothes, a few African artifacts and their education.
He taught at universities in Germany, but after a year, was recruited to teach sociology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. There he stayed until retirement in 1996, when he became Professor Emeritus.
Throughout his career, he pursued his interests in the sociology of art and culture, and religion, later adding a new interest in the study of the body. He worked in an international forum, collaborating with colleagues around the world, including a senior research fellowship at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions, and research in France and Hungary.
After retiring, he continued to write and edit international publications, and organize and attend conferences abroad. He continued his decade-long work with the International Sociological Association, particularly with the Sociology of Religion Research Committee. After his term as President of the Research Committee was up, he became Honorary President, a role he kept until he died.