The Death of William "Bill" Darrow

I write, with sadness, to honor the memory of William “Bill” Darrow, the Cluett Professor of Religion, Emeritus, who passed away on October 1.

Bill earned his B.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University. Before coming to Williams in 1981, he taught at Tufts University, Harvard Divinity School, Firdawsi University in Iran, and Western Michigan University. He retired in 2015.

A scholar of Near Eastern studies, he was an expert on Islamic culture and religion, though his research interests also included religions of late antiquity, Zoroastrianism and the place of women in the Arab world. His love of the liberal arts and kind spirit made him supportive of others’ interests, too. Biology professor and longtime colleague Lois Banta recalls, “He enjoyed weaving connections between ideas and people. His eyes practically twinkled with excitement when he realized that your work might be enhanced by an introduction he could facilitate to another member of the Williams community or alumni network.”

For more than three decades at Williams, Bill taught courses on Judaism and Islam, 13th-century world history and Sufism, the Islamic mystical tradition. His scholarship was published in numerous journals, and he is the author of Zoroaster as Epic Hero, Holy Man, and Prophet and co-editor of Myths of Crisis. In 1986 he received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for a historical study of religious plurality in the medieval Muslim world—a topic that resonates today. Bill said at the time that he hoped his research would contribute “to understanding the breakdown of that pluralism that stands behind the present political and religious turmoil in the Middle East.”

In addition to teaching and writing, he served two terms in the dean’s office, first as assistant dean of the college and later as dean of freshmen, as the title was known then. He also served as chair for various departments, programs and committees. And he was a key partner to political science professor Cheryl Shanks in developing the Public Health Program, which later became a concentration. In between deanship positions, he was a Gaudino Scholar, and when his term ended, he continued to be an enthusiastic supporter of the program’s mission and subsequent scholars. Denise Buell, the Cluett Professor of Religion, says, “He epitomized cross-disciplinary collaboration with his efforts to build programs in international studies and Arabic studies while also remaining a pillar of the religion department.”

Bill’s care for students’ intellectual and social life was another hallmark of his career at Williams. He engaged his students in the world through a Winter Study course in Morocco, where he introduced them to Moroccan culture with a focus on women’s issues in business, law and society. He also was integral to advancing the Global Studies concentration, encouraging students to explore, understand and stretch their knowledge of the world. His department colleague, Edan Dekel, the Garfield Professor of Ancient Languages, said that Bill often taught extra courses and independent studies beyond his normal teaching load in order to make available topics and areas of inquiry that were not part of the regular curriculum.

Adds religion department chair Jeff Israel, “He raised challenging and interesting questions and pushed me to think in new ways about my role in the classroom. I was grateful to him then, and I will always remember him with gratitude.”

Bill leaves behind his wife of 54 years Kathryn (Nordmeyer) Darrow; daughter Elizabeth Justine Darrow; son Alexander William Darrow; and five grandchildren.

The family is planning to hold a remembrance online at a future time and asked those who would like information to please contact Elizabeth Darrow at [email protected].

Our thoughts go out to Bill’s loved ones, friends and former colleagues.