CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne
Nikandrs Gills was one of CESNUR’s best friends internationally, a fine scholar, a most kind and compassionate man. As a tribute to his memory, we are publishing a memory by his colleague and friend Solveiga Krumina-Konkova
When on the morning of February 2nd we learned the tragic news, our first thought was: “Why should a good man be the one to pass away?” And we were united in the unrelenting feeling that it was not fair, that it should not have happened! Not to Nick, the way his friends and colleagues used to call him. Yes, Nick was and is and will always remain in our memory in the first place as a good man, the words “a good man” embracing the values that are too often neglected nowadays: self-respect, honesty, an impartial support of a friend and colleague, kind-heartedness and love of life and people. We knew that Nick could always be relied upon. His unshakable peace and optimism, his encouraging smile made you feel secure even when the present reality seemed far from stable. Even at the end of his life when he was fighting a grave illness, he made us believe that everything was going to be all right. And we trusted him because it could not be otherwise.
However, Nikandrs Gills was not only a good man although in our time it is an inestimable value. His colleagues will remember him as an erudite philosopher and world-famous religion researcher. As far back as in 1981, when Nikandrs Gills began to work at the then Latvia Academy of Sciences Philosophy and Law institute his attention was drawn to the life of religions in Latvia. As a scientist Nikandrs Gills was interested in the history of phenomenology of Latvian religion and in this sphere as well as in the knowledge of the history of Latvian Lutheran theology few could compete with him. Those who worked on similar themes knew that they could ask Nikandrs any question; he always had an answer and if he hadn’t any, he knew where to look for it. How knowledgeable he was we can see from his publications in the two collections in the middle of the nineties [Religion History Life (1993) and The Eternal and the Secular (1995)] and others. In the times of the great changes Nikandrs wrote a voluminous dissertation on the Latvian religious and ethical thinking, but he did not choose to defend it as he himself did not think it to be good enough. Such scientific integrity and maybe at times excessive self-criticism characterized all Nikandrs Gills did. That is why he was not so much worried about his scientific career although his research is worth more than one scientific degree.
Nikandrs Gills was one of the first to turn to the research of new religions and just like all he did, he did it most thoroughly. In the space of a few years he became an expert in this field not only in Latvia, but in the world as well. This is testified to by his publications in international editions, his cooperation with his CESNUR (the centre of new religion research in Italy) colleagues, his colleagues in the USA, Switzerland, Germany and other places in the world, annual participation in international conferences, where his reports always aroused interest and heated discussions. It is to be deduced also from references to his work not only in Latvian student and researchers’ works, but also in the work of many foreign scholars.
Nikandrs was fond of field research, where he could meet and interview advocates of different religions and those people who usually distrusted their counterparts entrusted their life stories to him because again his goodness was supreme. For quite a number of years Nikandrs collected material and wrote a book on the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Latvia. He knew that his view of the religion would differ from the generally accepted one and worried whether the reader would accept the book, yet he tried to be completely objective and was sure of every sentence he wrote. Now the book has been written and he submits it to our judgement. And his second “spiritual child” is the collection of articles Religious Philosophical Works. Since 1997 when the sixth edition of renewed Religious Philosophical Works was issued under the editorship of Professor Haralds Biezais, Nikandrs used to be the compiler of the Works. Actually he was also the initiator of the renewal of the publication who could persuade Haralds Biezais to undertake the duties of the chief editor of the Works, thus the renewed Works ensure the realization of the succession of academic and world view originated in the Works that were published by the “Society of Religious Sciences” and ceased to appear after 1940. Just a few days before passing away Nikandrs took care of the publication of the 12th and 13th editions.
Nick, do not worry in the Heaven where God needed you so much, - the Works will certainly be published and your book, we believe, will also make at least someone look at the world in a different way. With time we shall probably accept that God has a shortage of good people in Heaven and that is why He took you away, however at the moment the feeling of the unfairness of it lingers and we feel lost without your encouragement. We know we have to continue the work you started and we shall try to do it. Rely on us the way we always used to rely on you. However, all that is in the future will be life without you…
I remember we talked with you once that we mustn’t grieve over those who are on the road to eternity because we make it so much harder for them. Forgive us for not letting you go. May the road up where you are expected be easy for you!
We shall take leave of the philosopher and researcher of religions Nikandrs Gills on the 5th of February.