Deaths: Steve Fanning

Steve Fanning, 71, associate professor emeritus of history, died May 15 in Oak Park after battling several health issues.

Fanning, who was at UIC for more than 30 years, studied and taught courses on medieval and Byzantine history, religion in the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and the history of mysticism.

He was hired as a visiting assistant professor in 1980, was an assistant professor from 1981 to 1987 and an associate professor from 1987 to his retirement in August 2012. He served as assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 1996 to 2000.

Fanning’s publications include the 1988 book A Bishop and His World Before the Gregorian Reform: Hubert of Angers, 1006-1047 and the 2004 co-translation of The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 919-966. He also co-authored New North Church: Life and Death in Early Boston in 2005.

He wrote about mysticism in his 2001 book Mystics of the Christian Tradition, and in a self-published autobiography, Adventures in Healing, in 2017.

The latter work details Fanning’s own spiritual journey and near death experience in 1988 when he slipped into a two-week coma following a severe asthma attack while in London.

“I saw that life is a precious gift from God and we should try to enjoy it. But life is also purposeful; it has meaning. The purpose of life is to learn and thus all that happens to us advances this purpose, even the worst things that happen to us,” Fanning wrote.

Neal Grossman, associate professor emeritus of philosophy, had a common interest in mysticism and teamed with Fanning to develop and co-teach a course in the Honors College called “History and Philosophy of Mysticism.”

“We both attended one another’s lectures, and I loved and learned from sitting in on his lectures,” Grossman said. “The near death experience removes any fear of dying, and I know Steve was looking forward to it, and was happy to let go of a body that was riddled with pain. I feel blessed to have known him, and to have worked together with him.”

In recognition of outstanding undergraduate teaching, Fanning won Silver Circle Awards in 1984 and 1987.

In retirement, he remained active at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, and lectured on near death experiences, healing prayer and mysticism.

“His gentle voice, quick smile, and brilliant mind inspired generations of students, and his colleagues will remember his deeply humane worldview and flashes of humor delivered with a twinkle of the eye. We will miss him,” Christopher Boyer, professor and chair of history, wrote in a department message.

Before coming to UIC he was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Fanning received a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1977. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Tech University, which later honored him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1999.

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