Cover photo for Lindsay Jones's Obituary
Lindsay Jones Profile Photo
1954 Lindsay 2020

Lindsay Jones

June 18, 1954 — March 28, 2020

Lindsay Jones died of complications related to metastatic adenocarcinoma "of unspecified origins," with which he had struggle for several years.

Known to many by his nickname " Syd", the son of Ralph and Martha Jones was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1954. Never married, he is survived by two older sisters: Dana E. Jones of Colorado and Wendy Jones of Illinois. He spent his entire childhood in Libertyville Illinois, a proud graduate of Copeland Manor Elementary School, Highland Junior High School and, in 1972, Libertyville High School. More often called creative than smart, he liked school and was a solid but hardly stupendous student. His was, as he remembered it, a quintessentially Rockwellian, all-American small-town upbringing--complete with super-stable and supportive parents, tadpole catching, pickup baseball, paper routes (one that he kept for eight years), and lots of very good friends, many that he knew well from infancy to adulthood. Though eventually he was urgently committed to broadening his horizons, he loved the Midwestern place and people from which he came.

Childhood church attendance 52-weeks a year led, even as a kid, to a mixture of respect and skepticism about Christianity; but by age eight he was certain he wanted to be an architect. A dedicated athlete of modest talents, 1000's of hours of jump-shooting practice allowed him to play a central role on one of the worst basketball teams in LHS school history. He won the respect of his peers instead by finding a way to put an old tire on the picturesque steeple of the local Lutheran church; in staging elaborate practical jokes and pranks he had few competitors. Happily embracing at least one Jones family tradition, he was an ardent supporter of the St. Louis Cardinals, an allegiance that worked equally to engender pride and build character while he grew up among a legion of Chicago Cubs fans. Still in the Redbird fold as an adult, he traveled in 2013 to St. Louis expressly for the funeral of Stan Musial, a favorite of his and his parents.

Regarding college, never-realized ambitions of becoming an architect, along with a fascination for the Great American West, led him to the School of Environmental Design at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Coming of age in a wonderfully mind-expanding six-year undergraduate career, he surprised himself by earning degrees in Religious Studies and Anthropology as well as in Design; but he also took many courses for no credit and , in these years, truly awakened a lifelong passion for reading and studying. An academic predisposition and intense curiosity with other cultures, which had lain dormant in his waspy Midwestern roots, emerged. Crucial during this period was the influence of historian of religions David Carrasco, subsequently a lifelong mentor and colleague who introduced him to the work of Mircea Eliade and to cultural area of Mesoamerica.

More broadly, there is lots of truth in suspicions that the values and priorities that dominated the rest of his life were strongly formed by the countercultural climate of 1970s Boulder, a hip and hippie ambience that called to question many of his suburban presuppositions. For lots of his friends that was a passing phase; but, for him, it was a kind of permanent conversion to unconventionality of a deep and lasting sort. Also, cultivating lifelong interests in wilderness and travel, he managed during those years to traverse nearly all of Colorado's major highways and lots of minor roadways on one European motorcycle or another. He once drove an 850 Norton nonstop 1000 miles from Denver to Chicago for a wedding, then turned around and road it home. A multi-year college film series instilled a great affection for Humphrey Bogart; and he could reel off the names of 90 of that alter-ego's movies.

Regarding graduate school, he slipped through a crack into the great and powerful University of Chicago, where, ironically enough for a self-described heathen, he spent much of the 19080s taking courses in

Jones obituary; p.2

the UChicago Divinity School. By no means "god-fearing," he saw the study of comparative religion as the best means of appreciating the manifold ways of being human.  Still with aspirations to be an architect, he was drawn to Chicago primarily by the appeal of writings on "sacred space" by Mircea Eliade, with whom he took that celebrity-scholar's final five courses. But he found not less important influences in historians of religions Joseph M. Kitagawa, Frank Reynolds, and Lawrence E. Sullivan, who would eventually serve as his dissertation adviser.

Reasoning that he was only half as smart as his classmates in that  top-tier academic environment, he routinely compensated with term papers to which he devoted twice the time and twice the required  length, a strategy that worked well probably because no professors actually read those wordy tomes. Continued attendance at David Carrasco's Mesoamerican Archive conferences and workshops in Colorado, and then at Princeton and Harvard--occasions with the added bonus of deepening the career-long influence of historian of religion Charles H. Long--made LJ's interest in that Middle American region viable. Frequently penniless while he sacrificed every aspect of his personal life to his studies--a true believer's approach that allowed him to serve as the inspiration for a starving but deeply committed grad student character in John Barbour's novel Renunciation--he eventually earned a MA in Divinity in 1981 and a PHD with distinction in the History of Religions in 1989.

Never winning scholarships and adverse to taking money from his parents, he funded that nearly two-decade sojourn in higher education via an array of blue-color jobs. Most notably, he worked for six seasons as a logger in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. That job required--or, better, enabled--him to live completely alone nearly half of each year in a remote mountain shack without water or electricity, miles from the nearest person. Dividing his time between falling trees, which he considered great fun, and doing the serious reading on which his academic career would be built, another task he also enjoyed immensely, this remote existence was , for him, a dream-come-true. In fall months he had to cross-country ski the last five miles to his shack, until the depth of the snow would force him back to grad school in Chicago.

Always good at making friends and deeply appreciative of lots of many-decade friendships, even occasionally in love, he learned early in life that solitude was, for him, a productive and prized condition. Not infrequently he went a couple weeks in the forest without seeing another person--and loved it. During this seminal period, he came to concur with novelist and thinker Nikos Kazantzakis in seeing comfortable family life, not as an aspiration, but as the path of least resistance for people lacking that courage and wherewithal to live a less conventional life. For him bachelorhood and eremitical "life of the mind" were always the winning options.

He considered his close and fun relationship with 70-year-old, fifth-graded educated sawmill owner Charles E. Sayer, the employer who mad LJ's logging adventure possible, one of the great gifts of his life. With Charles he shared a love of labor and preference for the simple and rustic, along with a deep suspicion of wealth and ostentation. Both were plain working men.

Additionally during those long college years, he worked as a forklift driver in North Chicago and Denver, an oilfield roughneck in Montana and North Dakota a longshoreman in St. Louis, and, during his last couple years as a grad student, a limousine driver in Chicago. Also he enjoyed several stints in the employment of his lifetime friend Joe Gleason's Apollo Portable Toilet business. Going to work for years with a lunch pail and hardhat deepened his respect, even affection, for manual labor and the persons who did it. Accordingly, he considered university colleagues who bragged that they had never had any non-academic employment, as if that were a virtue, to be elitist weenies.

Jones obituary; p.3

With financial challenges that had him in and out of graduate school countless times, he eventually wrote most of his PhD dissertation, which was focused on the great Maya capital of Chichèn Itzà, while touring Mexico's premier archaeological sites in a worn-out Toyota pickup truck that he had converted into a traveling office and library. That 13-month jaunt in 1987-1988 proved to be the precedent for many trips in which he drove by himself all over central and southern Mexico--studying ruins and spending weeks at a time holed up in cheap hotels reading and writing--a low-end style of travel that he truly came to love, and thus pursued until the very end of his life. Over time he was fortunate in coming to know many leading Mexican archaeologists and historians, but, actually, he loved Mexico most from the bottom up. His years in the Wyoming woods had prepared him well for a rustic engagement with Mesoamerica.

University of Chicago doctorate in hand by 1989, he took a position at The Ohio State University where, during the next three decades, he passed through the ranks from instructor to assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, and finally emeritus professor. Pleased to be among the tiny minority of idealistic scholars who actually got a full-time academic position at a major research institution, he was never well-suited to be a Buckeye. His interactions with colleagues in the Department of Comparative Studies--an experimental unit that morphed into a caricature of 1990s preachy preoccupations with race, class, and gender (all topics with which he too was much concerned)-- were more often frustrating and debilitating than rewarding. Nonetheless, almost without exception, he enjoyed the students. Teaching was the strongest part of his academic game; and thus he was deeply disappointed, indeed heartbroken, by a department that he could not in good conscience recommend it to any serious student of religion, least of all graduate students.

Not surprisingly, then, most of his closest colleagues resided at other universities and, in many cases, outside the USA. Historian of religion and Islam, Marilyn R. Waldman, a mentor of the highest order, was an important exception, as was Xiaomei Chen, a China-born literary scholar whose much-valued friendship epitomized his favorite aspect of academic life-namely, meeting and interacting with people from backgrounds and cultures very different from his own white-boy suburban roots. To that end--i.e., the thrill of "deprovincialization"--he spent two years as a visiting foreign professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan (1998-2000). That Asian base enabled travels to Thailand Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (Java and Bali), India, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the Philippines--all eye-opening excursions that were focused on studying and photographing the region's respective sacred sites.

He considered his The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison (Harvard University Press, 2000), later reissued as seven slim volumes his most important and original work. But there is no doubt that his most lasting academic contribution was serving as editor-in-chief for a heavily revised second edition of Mircea Eliade's 15-volume Encyclopedia of Religion (Macmillan Reference, 2005). Overseeing a fabulously diverse 13-person editorial board and some three dozen area-specific consultants--every one of them a scholar superior to the main editor--he nevertheless organized their contributions into a ten-million-word encyclopedia with 3000 articles by 2000 authors. That huge work was designated "best reference source in any category" for 2005 by Booklist magazine, the review journal of the American Library Association (ALA). Largely on the merits of that work, he was awarded the "Mircea Eliade Centennial Jubilee Medal," by President of Romania, Traian Basescu, at the presidential palace in Bucharest, Romania, in 2006, "as a sign of appreciation for praiseworthy activity and remarkable contribution to the history of religions."

In 2016, after 27 years, he happily left Ohio State with, he thought, lots left in the tank, so to speak. In mislabeled "retirement"--he preferred the term "at liberty"--he shifted all of his attention to research

Jones obituary; p.4

and writing about the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The alternate universe of Oaxaca, a perfect place for a historian of religions of his ilk, allowed him to be a different person; and he set to work on a trilogy of books that would together constitute "an architectural reception history" of the great archaeological-tourist site of Monte Albàn.

Almost immediately, though, he was diagnosed with incurable stage-four cancer, which infected his body from toes to fingertips. After a lifetime of near-perfect health and lots of energy, now he had a prognosis of 6-9 months to live. At that point, entering a kind of personal purgatory of uncertain length he ended all normal activities and involvements and devoted himself solely to getting as far as he could with his Monte Albàn project. His last academic presentation was a keynote address on "Architectural Pedimentos: Crafting Petitions for a Better Life in Southern Mexico" for the ninth annual symposium of the Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Forum at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine (May 2017). He much apricated that internationally diverse and energetic group of architect-scholars, which friend and ACSF founder Julio Bermudez had convened.

Instead of the end, however, he responded remarkably well to a then-experimental cocktail of chemo- and immune-therapies, a dozen rounds of which he did at the OSU James Cancer Hospital and , for another few months, at a cancer clinic in McAllen Texas, to which he traveled every three weeks from Oaxaca. That carpet-bombing medical miracle gave him nearly two more years to work on the Monte Albàn project, along with the right to brag that he had outlived 90% of those with this diagnosis.

But, in 2019, when "the Emperor of All Maladies" reasserted itself, just as the experts said it would, no conventional or experimental treatments did anything to slow the cancer. By the end of that year he was toast, no longer well enough to write. And, consequently, he posted at a complete version of the first book, Narrating Monte Albàn: Seven True Stories f the Great Zapotec Capital of Southern Mexico, and a 285,000-word working version of the second, The Religion of Monte Albàn: Reflections on an Enduring Work of Sacred Architecture in Oaxaca, Mexico. The third book was still too rough to share.

He was disappointed that he did not last long enough in 2020 to vote for the next US president, and even more crestfallen that he was not able to complete his imagined three-book magnum opus. He did manage, however, to establish the Billy Creek Trust, named for his first timber sale and administered by trusted friend Jill Conley, which directs funds to the sort of projects and persons that he admired. He requested that his cremated remains be distributed in a favorite portion of the Monte Albàn ruins (only inadvertently to complicate the efforts of archaeologists).

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Lindsay Jones, please visit our flower store.

Visits: 26

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Send Flowers

Send Flowers

Plant A Tree

Plant A Tree