Monday, July 21, 2014

Writer and theologian Rubem Alves dies at 80 in Campinas

UOL (em português - English translation by Rebel Girl)
July 19, 2014

On Saturday, July 19th, writer Rubem Alves died at age 80. This information was confirmed to UOL by the spokesperson for Centro Médico de Campinas Hospital, where Rubem had been hospitalized since July 10.

According to the hospital, Rubem died from multiple organ failure. He was in the ICU for respiratory failure due to pneumonia. The writer, psychoanalyst, theologian and educator was considered one of the greatest contemporary education thinkers in Brazil.

Rubem's funeral will take place at the Plenário da Câmara Municipal de Campinas starting at 7 p.m. this Saturday. The writer's body will be cremated at the Primaveras Metropolitan Crematorium in Guarulhos (Greater São Paulo).

Rubem was married to Lidia Nopper Alves and leaves three children.


Rubem Alves' career was mostly forged and influenced by religion. In his youth in Rio de Janeiro, he found shelter in the divine from the malicious pranks of his schoolmates who saw him as a hick from Minas Gerais, where he was born on September 15, 1933 in Boa Esperança, when the city was still called Dores da Boa Esperança. After high school, he studied theology at Seminário Presbiteriano do Sul. After graduating, he returned to his home state to serve as pastor amid the simple and poor people.

At that time, he had already forged the thought that would be one of the pillars of liberation theology, a movement that proposed that religion be practiced and interpreted from the perspective of the poor, questioning, for example, the notion of sin and relying mainly on principles of love and freedom. He believed that religion should be a means to improve the world of the living rather than guaranteeing something to people after they were dead. However, his ideas were not well received by the church. Like theologian and writer Leonardo Boff, his colleague and friend, he suffered retaliation for the thoughts he expounded and the position he adopted.

After a period of study in New York, he returned to Brazil after the military coup in 1964 and was denounced as subversive by the Presbyterian Church. To escape those who were persecuting him, he returned to the United States with his family. There, at the invitation of the United Presbyterian Church - USA and the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he wrote his doctoral thesis entitled "Towards a Theology of Liberation" [later published as A Theology of Human Hope], which put on paper the ideas that would be embodied in a movement.

He returned to Brazil with a Ph.D, broke with the Presbyterian Church, and became unemployed. He went to work teaching in higher education at the Faculdade de Filosofia Ciências e Letras in Rio Claro, and, starting in 1974, was a professor at Unicamp [Universidade Estadual de Campinas] until his retirement.

In 1959, he married Lídia Nopper and they had three children together -- Sergio, Marcos, and Raquel. Thanks to the girl, he began writing stories for children. He devoted himself to literature and poetry, understanding that both were food for the body and pleasing to the soul. Writing fulfilled his frustrated dream of being a pianist. He channeled into words the gift he lacked for musical notes. Inspired by Albert Camus, Nietzsche, Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes, Fernando Pessoa and Manoel de Barros, among many others, he became one of the most prolific and beloved Brazilian writers.

His opus includes more than a hundred books, divided among children's books, chronicles, education, religion, theology and even biography ("Gandhi: a Magia dos Gestos Poéticos" -- "Gandhi: The magic of poetic actions"), among which worth mentioning are "Ostra feliz não faz pérola" ["Happy oysters don't make pearls"] which placed second in the category "Tales and chronicles" for the 2009 Jabuti Award, "O que é religião" ["What religion is"], an introductory book to religious thought, "A alegria de ensinar" ["The joy of teaching"] which discusses knowledge and ways to transmit it from generation to generation, "A Escola que Sempre Sonhei" ["The school I've always dreamed of"], also about education, and the children's books "A Pipa e a Flor" ["The kite and the flower"], "A Menina e o Pássaro Encantado" ["The little girl and the enchanted bird"] and "A Volta do Pássaro Encantado" ["The return of the enchanted bird"]. He thought that philosophically complex topics should be approached in a simple and understandable manner so that they could be accessible to as many people as possible.

In the 1980's, he became a psychoanalyst, calling himself heterodox since he believed that beauty inhabited the depths of the unconscious. He had his own clinic until 2004 and drew inspiration from his patients for many of his chronicles. In a statement published on Rubem Alves' web site, Leonardo Boff said his friend "became a master with original points of view on many different subjects. He can speak poetically about the prosaic and prosaically about poetry. In my opinion, he is one of those who has the best command of the Portuguese language in our generation, with an elegance and lightness of style that truly fascinates us."

His education in the humanities, appreciation of the arts, questioning of power, and academic career turned Rubem Alves into a great and respected educator -- which perhaps defined him best in the latter part of his life. Thinking about education, he began to question the established model of education. He stated that the teacher's role should be to lead students to find answers to the questions by adopting a position closer to the learners, and no longer being the adult who just dispenses content. The learning environment should also undergo profound changes, becoming more like the children's own homes, where the rooms serve as sorts of private laboratories that would awaken the little ones' attention to the materials being taught. "The school, like it or not, is an artificial environment. Life is not happening there," he said in an interview with Educar para Crescer magazine.

On his web site, he wrote "My star is education. Educating is not teaching mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography, Portuguese. Those things can be learned from books and computers. They don't require the presence of the educator. Educating is something else. Of an educator, one could say what Cecilia Meireles said about her grandmother, who was the one who educated her: 'Her body was a thinking mirror of the universe.' The educator is a body full of worlds...The first task of education is teaching to see. The world is marvelous; it is full of amazing things. Zaratustra laughs when he sees butterflies and soap bubbles. Adelia laughs when she sees tanajuras in flight or a pé de mato producing yellow flowers. I laugh when I see shells, cobwebs and popcorn popping ... Anyone who sees clearly never gets bored with life. The educator points and smiles -- and contemplates the student's eyes. When his eyes are smiling, he feels happy. They are seeing the same thing. When I say that my passion is education, I'm saying I want to have the joy of seeing the eyes of my students, especially children's eyes." For putting this line of thought into practice, he received the title of emeritus professor at Unicamp in 1996, and the "O educador que queremos" ["The educator we love"] award offered by PNBE (Pensamento Nacional das Bases Empresariais) in 2003.


  1. Rebel Girl

    Boa tarde,

    estou realizando um trabalho para a editora Cengage Learning e nossos editores gostariam de utilizar o texto, em inglês, da reportagem do UOL, a respeito do falecimento de Rubem Alves, assim como publicado no seu blog.
    O conteúdo acima será utilizado na seguinte obra:

    Título- Trilha para o ensino médio.
    Autores – Cengage Learning Edições Ltda
    Tiragem – 1.000 exemplares pelo prazo de 5 anos
    Formato: digital

    Gostaria de saber se é possível a autorização de uso e o custo para tanto.

    Agradeço antecipadamente sua atenção.


    Monique Michelon

  2. Hi, Monique. You didn't include an email address in this comment so I can only respond publicly through this medium. You have my authorization to use my translation of the UOL obituary on Rubem Alves as you have described and you may use it free of charge.