Merlin L. Swartz, 88, died Feb. 21, 2022, at Carleton-Willard Village in Bedford, Mass. He was born July 31, 1933, to Orbie and Anita (Sharp) Swartz in AuGres, Mich.
He graduated from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Va., with a bachelor’s degree in 1955. He married Hilda Bender on July 8, 1955.
He attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary and then Goshen Biblical Seminary in Indiana. During his time at Goshen, he took a leave of absence to do relief work among Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and southern Jordan with Mennonite Central Committee. He was a lifelong pacifist and conscientious objector and volunteered this work as an alternative to military service. Then he completed studies at GBS, earning a master’s of divinity in 1960. He pursued graduate studies at Harvard University, earning a doctorate in 1967. He and his family spent a year in Damascus, Syria, to conduct research in Syria and Turkey for his dissertation on a Fulbright-Hayes Research Fellowship.
His first position as a professor was at American University of Beirut and the Near East School of Theology from 1967 to 1970. Then he taught at Harvard University from 1970 to 1972 as a research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He began at Boston University in 1973, becoming professor of religion and serving as department chair. There he trained graduate students, taught courses in Islam, Arabic and the occidental religions. He published books and articles on medieval Islam and other topics in Islamic, Arabic and Middle Eastern studies.
He and Hilda spent a sabbatical year in 1989-1990 in Egypt, Syria and Turkey to do research for a book on a Fulbright Research Grant. He taught at Boston University until 2008. He and Hilda lived in Singapore for a semester in 2008-2009, where he taught at the National University of Singapore.
He was a founding member of the Mennonite Congregation of Boston and a member of First Parish in Bedford.
Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Hilda; two daughters, Sondra (Souhil KassHana) and Wanda; two sons, Daryl and Kenton (Amy Horst); three sisters, Marian (David) Miller, Phyllis (Norman) Lind and Delores; a brother, Donald (Lorrie Larsen); one granddaughter and three grandsons; and one great-granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. July 31 at First Parish in Bedford. Donations in his memory may be made to MCC or Doctors Without Borders USA.