College Mourns Professor Tyler Roberts

June 09, 2021

Tyler Tillinghast Roberts, professor of religious studies, died Thursday, June 3, at the age of 61. 

Tyler was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, and grew up in Stowe, Vermont. He graduated from Brown University and received his doctor of theology at Harvard Divinity School in 1993. 

Tyler Roberts

As a professor, Tyler taught religious studies at Grinnell College from 1998 until his tragic death in 2021. He taught courses on a wide variety of subjects, including Religion in U.S. Public Life, Spirituality, and Theory and Method in the Study of Religion. In fall 2020, drawing on a lifelong interest in music, he taught a First-Year Tutorial, Words and Guitar: From Rock ‘n’ Roll to Hip-Hop.

As a scholar, Tyler published two books, Contesting Spirit: Nietzsche, Affirmation and Religion and Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism After Secularism, and contributed to many journals and collections. Closer to home, Tyler was chosen as the speaker for the inaugural Grinnell Lecture in December 2014. The lecture series recognizes a distinguished body of scholarly work that makes a significant contribution or has a broad impact on the scholarly community. His lecture expanded on topics he grappled with in Encountering Religion, which seeks to find a balance between secular and religious understandings of how people engage with and make meaning in their worlds.

Beyond publishing, Tyler was an active member of a scholarly community discussing the place of religion in public life. Along with eight other leading scholars, he was a senior fellow in the Project on Religion and Its Publics at the University of Virginia, which gathered a range of participants over time to bridge the gap between the academic study of religion and public discussions about religion.

Throughout his career, Tyler contributed generously and thoughtfully to the life of the College in a variety of ways, including serving on the Executive Council (twice), the Personnel Committee, and the Advisory Board of the Center for the Humanities. He also served as chair of the Humanities Division and chair of the Department of Religious Studies on multiple occasions. Recently, Tyler brought his insight and experience to the Inscriptions for the Future selection committee, helping lead a multi-year initiative to select 12 names to inscribe in the Humanities and Social Studies Center atrium. Tyler and the committee worked with students, staff, faculty, and alumni to identify people whose work and legacies connect to the values and mission of our living, learning community.

Outside of his professional life, Tyler loved to cook and grill, bike, swim, and work in the garden. He was an avid reader and an extraordinary crossword enthusiast. He loved music of all kinds and was learning to play the guitar alongside his son, Will. As a native New Englander, Tyler loved to return to the ocean, visit family and friends, and watch the Red Sox play. Above all, he cherished time with his wife, Shuchi Kapila, professor of English at Grinnell, and his children, as well as a host of colleagues and friends. 

Tyler is survived by his wife, Shuchi; his mother, Jane T. Roberts of Providence, Rhode Island; his sister, Amy M. Roberts of Scarborough, Maine; and his beloved children, Madeleine, Emma, Will, and Shivani. Condolences may be shared online with Tyler’s family on the Smith Funeral Home website. Video of the services held at Herrick Chapel on June 11, can be viewed on the Smith Funeral Home Facebook site. A memorial service is being planned for the fall.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to a memorial fund. Tyler’s family has established the Tyler Roberts Memorial Fund for the Humanities with the goal that it will provide support for campus engagement with big humanistic questions. 

You may give to the Tyler Roberts Memorial Fund by going to, selecting “Other” from the “Fund to Support” menu, and writing in “Tyler Roberts Memorial Fund.” If you have questions about the fund or your contribution, you may contact Development and Alumni Relations, 866-850-1846. You can also reach out to Tyler’s colleague in the Department of Religious Studies, Caleb Elfenbein

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