In Memory of Tom Spragens

Thomas Spragens at an event
Thomas A. Spragens Jr.

Thomas A. Spragens, Jr., Professor Emeritus, died peacefully at home on June 1st.  He was 81 years old. Dr. Spragens was an undergraduate at Wesleyan University and came to Duke in 1963 as a Danforth Fellow to study Religion, but soon moved to Political Science where he studied primarily with John Hallowell, receiving his PhD in 1968 and joining the faculty in the same year.

Tom was a Political Theorist who produced an impressive body of work.  In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, he published eight books between 1973 starting with The Politics of Motion: The World of Thomas Hobbes and ending with Capitalism and Democracy in 2021.  The importance of his contributions and the excellence of his scholarship were recognized by his colleagues with book awards and symposia on his work, including the Elaine and David Spitz Book Prize for 2001 for Civic Liberalism: Reflections on our Democratic Ideals.

Throughout his career Tom explored the variety of liberalisms; their origins, their relation to democracy, and their connection to the Enlightenment project, never losing sight of the importance of a coherent liberal theory for the maintenance of liberalism in our own time. His books are characterized by clarity, generous interpretations of opposing views, and sensible judgments.  While dedicated to liberty and equality, he was above all concerned with sustaining fraternity within his vision of liberalism.

Thomas Spragens speaks at his retirement celebration
Tom speaks at his retirement reception in April, 2016, after a round of friends and colleagues offer jovial and sincere remarks.

Tom was also active in the service of the larger university, serving for a number of years as Chair of the Duke Athletic Council and as Duke’s representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference.  He also served for several years as Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Trinity College beginning August 1, 1988.

Tom was a dedicated teacher and mentor.  Graduate students particularly appreciated his generosity with his time and his sage advice. Tom’s sensible judgment and fair-mindedness were equally important for the role he played as a colleague in department deliberations.

Tom spent a lifetime as a member of the Duke community dedicated to educating students and advancing our understanding of liberal democracy.  His loss will be keenly felt by many.

Additional obituary details are available through the Clements Funeral Services

Thomas Spragens tribute with the Duke flags lowered
The Duke flag at the Allen Building was lowered in tribute and memory of Thomas Spragens on June 14. Photo credit: Kathryn Kennedy/Trinity Communications