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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Retired Religious Studies Professor Emeritus John Bash

Courtesy photo

Professor Emeritus John Bash, who taught religious studies for almost 30 years, passed away August 15. He was 90 years old.

Born August 10, 1932, Bash was born in central Pennsylvania and grew up in a small coal-mining town as an only child. One of only a few students in his high school class who went on to college, he supported himself during his undergraduate years by delivering mail, doing road construction, and even baking pies for a restaurant. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Albright College, followed by a bachelor of divinity degree and a master’s and doctorate in religious studies all from Yale University. 

Bash spent the early years of his career teaching at Yale, the University of Colorado, Denver, and University of California, Santa Barbara. He was hired as a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Chico State in 1968 and then transferred a few years later to the Comparative Religion and Humanities Department, where he stayed for nearly 30 years, helping develop the department into what it is today.

Bash was well-known as an enthusiastic and conscientious instructor of eastern and western religions. His courses didn’t just inform students about diverse religions and philosophies, but sought to engage them in thinking about basic questions of human existence.

“He was one of my favorite instructors at Chico State,” said alumna Kim Olsen (Religious Studies, ’85; Credential, ’91). “He was always available for office hours and we would discuss things like Tibet, hiking, mountaineering, and our ideas about the writings of Peter Matthiessen and the photography of Galen Rowell. He always took a personal interest in his students and even hosted get-togethers at his home in Chico to which his students were invited.”

Endlessly curious and passionate about expanding one’s understanding about the world through exploring diverse cultures, traditions, and beliefs, Bash acted as a visiting professor at various institutions throughout his career, including the University of Pittsburgh’s Semester at Sea program in which 500 students and 28 faculty members cruised around the world in 105 days with five-day stays at 10 ports. After his retirement in 1995, Bash continued to teach through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Arizona.

Bash enjoyed a long list of accomplishments during his tenure at Chico State, include holding local and statewide offices in the California Faculty Association; receiving the University’s Meritorious Performance Award and Excellence in Teaching Award; becoming an honorary member of the Chico State chapter of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society in recognition of outstanding teaching; and being the director of the University’s study abroad program, accompanying students to destinations including East Africa, New Zealand, and China.

Alongside the former students whom he profoundly influenced, numerous colleagues share a deep gratitude for his mentorship and contributions. He guided many, helping build the Comparative Religion and Humanities Department into a community of generous scholars who shared ideas and supported one another.

“John’s loss will be felt by so many of us at Chico State,” said Professor Emeritus Joel Zimbelman. “I truly counted John as a friend—he was a listener and a wise, calculating, and pragmatic advisor who steered me in the right direction many times. Many of the books he recommended are still on my shelf, and ideas we discussed still sit on the old pages of my lecture notes.”

For Professor Emeritus Bruce Grelle, Bash was a kind and thoughtful mentor who helped him and other junior faculty members navigate the personnel process and establish themselves early in their careers.

“Bash was more than a charismatic and memorable classroom teacher—he was a good friend and colleague across campus,” said Grelle. “I especially remember his shrewd sense of humor and mischievous smile.”

Beyond academia, Bash was known as an inveterate world traveler with a lifelong love of hiking. While at Yale, he roamed the mountains of Maine; while in Colorado, he scaled the Rocky Mountains; and while at Chico State, he went on a climbing expedition in the Himalayas of Nepal with a friend who also worked at the University. Bash ended up visiting Nepal six times to visit seven major Buddhist monasteries near Mt. Everest—each time he had to arrive by helicopter and hire a guide, a cook, and porters with yaks to transport supplies.

Bash is survived by his two daughters, and his wife, Carol, whom he met in 1990 after being set up by his secretary. After his retirement, they settled in Green Valley, Arizona, and between the two of them had traveled to over 200 destinations around the world.

The University flag will be lowered Wednesday, October 19, in his memory.