Zen scholar remembered

by Kevin Smead

Dr. G. Ray Jordan, Jr., Professor of Religious Studies | Courtesy of Aletia Jordan
Dr. G. Ray Jordan, Jr., Professor of Religious Studies | Courtesy of Aletia Jordan

On Feb. 10, San Diego State lost accomplished religious studies scholar Dr. G. Ray Jordan, Jr. to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or as it is more commonly known: Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Jordan was born on Jan. 13, 1926 in North Carolina. The son of a progressive non-segregationist Methodist minister, Jordan grew up amidst threats of violence toward his family.

After completing degrees in both religion and psychology at Duke University in 1945, Jordan went on to Yale Divinity School to become a Methodist minister like his father. He lost interest, however, after being influenced by the writings of Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard, as well as the communal living space at Trabuco College.

Jordan moved out to the commune to further his education, and subsequently studied Japanese Zen with renowned scholar D. T. Suzuki at Claremont University in the early 1950s. Jordan then graduated with a master’s degree in 1952, and eventually received a doctorate in religion from the University of Southern California in 1957.

In the early 1960s, Jordan published articles in both the journal “Psychologia” and “The Journal of the American Academy of Religion” on the subjects of LSD, mystical experiences and Zen practices.

In 1966, Jordan was offered a position at San Diego State to establish the Department of Religious Studies, which he chaired for many years. He was known at SDSU for opening his home twice a week for Zen meditation to anyone interested. The sessions took place on Tipton Street, near SDSU, on Tuesday and Thursday nights between 7 and 9 p.m.

Jordan’s daughters recall his kindness and compassion, and remember fondly how he would rescue injured birds near Adams Humanities and nurse them back to health.

Jordan eventually retired from SDSU in 1996, but continued his practice of meditation up until his death.

Jordan is survived by his wife Connie, as well as his three daughters and numerous grandchildren. A memorial was held in his honor at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Agape House on Hardy Avenue.