Soul of the Stanford Campus

Robert Clark Gregg

July 2023

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It was at the University of the South, in Tennessee, that Robert Gregg’s activism took root. In a letter to the college newspaper, he and two classmates defended professors facing disciplinary action after meeting with local Black leaders to discuss racial segregation. After their letter was published, the three found themselves shunned by the student body. The experience changed him. When it came to matters of social justice, he said in a 2017 interview with the Stanford Oral History Project, “I learned that it was not crucial to be liked.” 

Portrait of Robert GreggPhoto: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

In 1987, Gregg joined Stanford as dean of the chapel and a professor of religious studies. He would come to change his title to dean for religious life, which aligned with his vision for celebrating faith traditions beyond Christianity. For more than a decade, he worked to ensure that all 30,000 members of his diverse campus congregation, as he called it, felt included and welcome.

Robert Clark Gregg, an ordained Episcopal priest, former dean for religious life, and founding director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, died on March 20. He was 84.

During divinity school, Gregg was inspired by clergy members active in the civil rights movement. He “saw the religious roots of social justice,” says Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, whom Gregg hired as the first non-Christian associate dean in the religious life office, a move that made Stanford one of the first universities in the country to have an interfaith campus chaplaincy. “That inclination to egalitarianism was so native to him and just infused everything.” Gregg blessed same-gender commitment ceremonies in the chapel before gay marriage was legal, helped build interfaith prayer and worship space in Old Union, and orchestrated the Dalai Lama’s first visit to Stanford, in 1994.

Gregg’s role as chaplain afforded him one of his greatest joys: getting to know people. Even in his busiest professional years, if he spied anyone he knew while riding his beat-up bicycle across campus, he would hit the brakes, eager to talk. He counseled struggling frosh, staff members, and Nobel Prize winners alike. 

A scholar of early Christianity, Gregg stepped down from his deanship in 1999 to resume full-time research and teaching. He was fascinated by the interaction of religious traditions, and his research culminated in his 2015 book, Shared Stories, Rival Tellings: Early Encounters of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Gregg never veered from his vision of a more inclusive community, says his close friend Gregory Wait, a former director of the Memorial Church choir. “He didn’t care whether you liked him or not,” Wait says, laughing, “but everybody did.”

Gregg was predeceased by his son Andrew. He is survived by his wife, Mary Layne; children Amy Gregg Masterson, Clark, and Courtney; four grandchildren; and three siblings.

Kali Shiloh is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at kshiloh@stanford.edu.

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