Robert Booth Fowler

On January 13, 2024, it was announced that Booth Fowler had passed away. You can find his obituary here.

May this page serve as a reminder of the immeasurable impact he had on this Department.


Robert Booth Fowler is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University where he studied with V.O. Key, Michael Walzer, and Louis Hartz.  He joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in 1967 and he taught here until his retirement in 2002.

His research and teaching interests are political thought and religion and American politics. Among his books are The Greening of Protestant Thought; The Dance with Community: The Contemporary Debate in American Political ThoughtUnconventional Partners: Religion and American Liberal CultureCarrie Chapman Catt: Feminist Politician; Enduring Liberalism:  American Political Thought since the 1960s; Religion and Politics in America (with Allen Hertzke, Laura Olson, and Kevin den Dulk), and Wisconsin Votes: An Electoral History. He describes his own intellectual perspective as a combination of diverse perspectives, “part Enlightenment liberal, part Burkean conservative, part Emersonian anarchist, and part religious existentialist.”

While Professor Fowler is an outstanding scholar, he also was an incredible teacher.  As Crawford Young describes in his centennial history of the political science department, “From the beginning of his career to its end, Fowler was one of the best and most beloved teachers in the department.  He was warm and friendly with individuals, dramatic and often spellbinding in the classroom.  He was equally well-received by freshmen, advanced undergraduates, and graduate students. He supervised or participated in supervising most of the theory dissertations written during his career in Madison, and his students include some of Wisconsin’s most distinguished alumni.”

Booth has touched many lives and below are several testimonials from Booth’s former students. The Robert Booth Fowler Professorship has been established and will honor this outstanding scholar and teacher. If you would like participate in honoring Professor Booth Fowler, to make a gift please contact Katie Rather at 608-572-2009 or or visit


Cliff Buelow, Class of 1970

I took Prof. Fowler’s Contemporary Political Thought class second semester of the 1967-68 school year.  It opened my eyes to a new world which I enjoy to this day.  I thought so highly of Prof. Fowler that I recommended that my older son take one or more classes from him.  Prof. Fowler thought more of my son’s academic work than mine 😉 and rewarded him with a highly-prized letter of recommendation to law school.  Count us both as big Booth Fowler fans.

Christopher A. McConville, Class of 1983

How can one possibly add to all those wonderful memories recounted by countless students Professor Fowler taught over his tenure?  But, with utmost respect and humility, I re-call struggling with a political concept (probably Kantian metaphysics) in one of his classes. I attempted to chase him down after class.  Which was no easy task, since he could really pick ’em up and put ’em down fast.  With underclassman reservations, I thought this genius of a professor can’t possibly have time for a poor sot of a sophomore, but I was able to catch his attention.  Professor Fowler immediately addressed me by my sir name (mind you, it was probably only three weeks into his class) made me feel welcomed, stopped and sat with me for at least thirty minutes in a vestibule of North Hall discussing a political concept he could recite in his sleep.  All to help a struggling underclassman while most likely missing an important staff meeting.   Priceless and ala Professor Fowler!

Thank you Professor Fowler for the impact you made on one of so many you have taught.

Jasmine Farrier, Class of 1992

Professor Fowler is the reason I am a professor today.  His lectures on Plato’s dialogues struck me like lightning.  From that moment in my junior year, there was no question what I wanted to do with my life.  I ended up taking 18 or more credits with Prof. Fowler, including a senior thesis on Plato and Rousseau.

He encouraged me to broaden my interests and suggested the University of Texas at Austin to work with his graduate school roommate, Sandy Levinson. I ended up there and focused on American political development and public law. My theory foundation is still with me as I aim to emulate Professor Fowler’s intellectual and personal connection with students that bring the material to life.
Professor Fowler was rare in making every student feel welcome as he walked around before class to ask our names and where we were from.  He held up examples of the best exams, and read from them in class; no matter what else my friend Mark Brookstein accomplishes in life, that’s his moment of glory as far as I am concerned.
Fowler really made a world within a world at UW.   I remember a blizzard in December, 1990, and administration canceled classes after the morning.  I trudged through the snow just in case.  Fowler was there, the hall was full, and we had an especially magical lecture.  As I recall, he got in some trouble but did not seem to regret it.
Undergraduates do not understand the research side of academic life so I only later fully appreciated the time he spent in all this attention to us – thousands of us – over his career in class and in his office.  He let us linger during office hours, and any other time, talking about all sorts of things.  On one of these visits, I remember kicking over my giant coffee onto his office rug.  His expression of bemused anger made me wonder if I had worn out my welcome at last.  Nope, never.

Jeffrey R. Orenstein, Class of 1971

Booth Fowler has had more intellectual impact on my life and career than any person I have ever encountered.
I was a Ph.D. student from 1967-1970 and Booth was my advisor and a role model. He was always ready and able to give good counsel and point me in a sensible direction for what courses I should take when and why, on how to formulate my interests into a coherent research direction and how to prepare for my comprehensive exams and my dissertation. I am convinced that I might not have gotten through the process without his guidance, patience and sage advice. His Socratic style of gently challenging and questioning in a non-threatening manner served me well for my education and for my career.
One of the highlights of my career as a political scientist at a state university in Ohio was the opportunity to collaborate with Booth on what became three editions Contemporary Issues in Political Theory, a textbook for political theory, published in turn by Harper-Collins, Wiley and Praeger. I learned as much or more from collaborating with Booth as I did the whole time as a graduate student. He was (is) patient, understanding and brilliant in his analytical approaches.
His influence has been a catalyst for improving the study of politics and government in an age that sorely needs it.

William J. DeBauche, Class of 1978

I was a Political Science major, class of 1978. I loved Professor Fowler’s political philosophy classes because he took a vast amount of complicated material and presented it in a way that was concise, highly organized and very interesting. He made even the most difficult material very understandable. His classes were both densely packed with content and extremely enjoyable. I have taught a law school class for over twenty years and have modeled my teaching style on Professor Fowler’s, without reaching his level.

Professor Fowler cared about his students at a level that was very uncommon at the huge University. He scheduled a meeting with me in the middle of my first semester, senior year. First he asked about my career plans. I told him that I was going to a national law school. He was relieved and said that he worried about his undergraduates and what they would do with a political science B.A., but that he would not worry about me. He complimented me, saying that I was disciplined, diligent and totally on top of my academic work, which would serve me well in law school. Then he asked how I was progressing with the preparation of his required term paper. I said that I had not started it yet. He said that he was taking back all of the nice things he just said about me. I still laugh when I think of that moment.

Dan Conley, Class of 1981

The only undergrad notebooks I saved were from the three classes I was fortunate enough to take from him.  By the third class, I marked my notebook as “Truth from Booth”.  It was, and I smile more than thirty five years later at the depth, breadth, intensity and sometimes sheer joy with which he lectured.   Not to mention the occasional twinkle in his eye, practiced smirk or outright sneer.  But most of all, what an experience to swim lecture after lecture in the ideas from a parade of thinkers he channeled and fairly represented.   He could all but convince you as to the rightness of whatever position he lectured from on a particular day (maybe Jerry Falwell actually had a point?); only to start the next lecture with a brief attack on the last lecture’s position (how could I have been so foolish and to have been empathetic to that nut two days earlier?), before bringing you down yet another path  — sometimes diametrically opposed to that the day before —  of a thinker whose views made sense for the first time (or at least till the next lecture).  What a delight, what a gift, what a pleasure, what a fine mind and how challenging and how much sheer fun to be his student.  A genius for ideas and teaching, even if his own personal political views are occasionally misshapen, likely due to all the time he spent sympathetically advancing other people’s goofy ideas.

Jane Klewin Grimm, Class of 1980

Professor Fowler was the best professor I had at the UW and he surpassed all of my professors in law school (Northwestern).  As you know, he was just extraordinary.  He made every student feel he or she was special, starting with him learning all of his student’s names, even in the large Introduction to Political Theory class I took early on.  I took three classes from Professor Fowler and wished I could have taken many more.  It didn’t matter the class topic, I knew I would sign up for any class he was teaching.  Like you, I too learned to be a better writer from Professor Fowler.  As important, I learned to be a better and more disciplined thinker.  It was in the first class I took from him that I, for the first time, got a real taste of “the life of the mind.”  It was so exciting!  I have a vivid memory of walking down the lake shore path after one of his intro political theory classes, feeling so alive and excited about school and life in general!  Professor Fowler and I corresponded for a number of years after I graduated (only losing touch after I failed to write him).  I know he had to have corresponded with so many other former students as well.  His ability and desire to connect with his students on a personal basis was astounding. He is such a kind person and I so enjoyed his sense of humor.  There is no other person who has had such an important, positive effect on my education and intellectual life.  I am honored to contribute to the named professorship in honor of Robert Booth Fowler.

Michael Zis, Class of 1992

Few people, and no other teacher, has positively impacted my life as much as Booth. Thanks for organizing this effort on behalf of the greatest teacher that’s ever lived.  I say that sincerely, for I’ve known no better.

Peter Kaplan, Class of 1993

Booth and Donald Downs were the two professors who I consider myself to be blessed to have learned from at UW.

Christopher Chapp, Class of 2002

I am now a professor of Political Science myself (at St. Olaf College) and am quite sure I never would have found this vocation had it not been for Booth. He has been a mentor and a role model as both a scholar and a teacher. He also inspired a love of inquiry that has only grown since I took my first class from him…

Michael McLendon, Class of 1992

Like so many, I was changed by his classes (I actually became a professional political theorist) and would like to honor his legacy.

Matthew Shinners, Class of 1987

I was pleased to read in North Hall News that a Booth Fowler Professorship will be established.  I am one of those who benefited greatly from Prof. Fowler’s guidance.  As a first semester freshman taking Calc 221, Chem 103, English Lit and Honors intro to Political Thought I quickly realized my passion was for poli sci.  That was in no small measure due to the thought provoking and rigorous nature of Prof. Fowler’s class.

Brian Kind, Class of 1991

I recently read in the North Hall news of the creation of the “Professor Fowler Professorship”.  I am very glad to hear of it.  As a former student I was one of the many grateful to have experienced multiple classes from Professor Fowler.   I, like many others, consider him the highlight of my UW experience as he was everything one thought a university professor should be.  He was, and is, at once inspiring, thought provoking, and approachable.  He could present a myriad of political opinions and thoughts without the need to “disarm” any of them, and let history and political thought come alive in his classrooms, for the students to digest and contemplate fully. His friendly open door always lead to earnest discussions and always revealed his true care for his students and their intellectual development.

Joe Blackbourn, Class of 1983

As it happened, my first political science class would be an elective as I was a Biochemistry major.  Based upon my roommate’s suggestion, I was most eager to take “Contemporary Political Thought.” In those days, class registration required that we show up at North Hall, which I ran to, in order to get into the class.  I walked up to the desk, which was staffed by three people and of course the class was oversubscribed already.  So I pleaded with them.  I said, “I really need this class.”  One of the staff asked me why and I went off on this oratory claiming that everyone says “Fowler is the best” and this is the only class in the department that I desperately want to take.  He decided to take pity on me and said he would see what he could do.  And then I was horrified upon walking into my first lecture, my mouth hanging open as the merciful staffer walked up to me and introduced himself as the Professor.  After three years and as many of his classes as I could take, I graduated with a degree in Political Science.  In the interim, I cherished his wit, his Socratic teaching style and his genuine concern that his charges learn to think as opposed to memorize. Priceless stuff.

John Porter, Class of 1983

What I most recall from my time with Booth is how much better a writer he made me through poking, prodding and challenging my thinking and my prose. I frankly thought that I was an excellent writer when I enrolled in his class; Booth quickly disabused me of that notion. On a more jocular note, I will also remember Booth finding me before class one day early in the semester and asking me if I knew what the word “gams” meant. I responded that they referred to a young lady’s legs. He said “I knew that a fellow like you would know”, spun on his heel and went to start the lecture. That, too, was Booth!

Michael Harrison, Class of 2000

I recall the shock in attending one of my first classes freshman year at UW, and Professor Fowler explaining that he would be teaching us about classical philosophers in the first person, before transforming himself into Socrates. Any concerns that I had about sitting in boring lecture halls with droning teaching assistants were dismissed by his engaging and unique style that made these great thinkers come to life. One particularly memorable moment took place on beautiful spring day that allowed Professor Fowler to take the whole lecture class for a walk on Bascom Hill. For this lecture, Professor Booth took on the person of Edmund Burke, one of the fathers of conservative thought. Even though I fundamentally disagreed with most of Burke’s tenets, I gained a new appreciation for the conservative approach in a way only Professor Fowler could bring about. To me, this was what college was supposed to be about: becoming absorbed in new ideas that lead us to look at things differently and consider alternative viewpoints.

Chris Larus, Class of 1988

I first met Professor Fowler when I took his Religion in Politics class during my sophomore year.  He was a brilliant and engaging professor who challenged me to think critically about challenging subjects.  He was also someone who cared deeply about forming personal relationships with the students he taught.  I am truly grateful that he took the time to get to know me and provide me mentorship.

Gregory Reed, Class of 1983 & 1988

What other professor memorized every student’s name within the first week of class and then called on you by your first name while lecturing? While admirable it was equally disconcerting since he would appear to be facing one side of class only to ask someone a question sitting behind him! Unsure if you had that experience but it certainly guaranteed that I did all of my required readings and was readily prepared for his class! His keen intellect and kind regard for every student remains forever etched in my mind.

David Redlick, Class of 1972

UW, and in particular the Political Science Department, played a wonderful role in my education and preparation for life.  And the most important person for me at UW was Professor Robert “Booth” Fowler.  To this day, I remember and prize what he did for me as a mentor, teacher and friend.

James Eckblad, Class of 1973

What an honor to have been one of so many thousands of exceedingly grateful students who are now provided this delightful opportunity to be a small part of this major event honoring this major scholar, major teacher, and major human being — who has so wonderfully informed and shaped so many lives that would have been markedly less without him. Truly.  Congratulations, Booth. And thank you.

Allen Hertzke, Class of 1986 

When I started the doctoral program in the fall of 1982, it was on a wing and a prayer because I entered without an assistantship and we (my spouse, Barbara, and I) had a baby on the way (who kindly waited 21 days after fall finals to be born).  That fall I took Booth’s riveting class on religion & politics, which happened to include a guest lecture by one Alice Honeywell who, after an impertinent question from me, properly and knowledgeably put me in my place.

Booth not only launched my academic career with that class, he also rescued our family finances by securing a spring appointment for me as a TA in his American Political Thought course.  I will never forget when I brought our newborn son into the large lecture hall, thinking that he would sleep through the class in his “snugli.”  Booth was lecturing on the American rights tradition, building to a crescendo as he pounded his fist and pronounced with dramatic flair, “There is nothing more American than saying, ‘I demand my rights!’” At which point my son let out a curdling scream from deep on my chest,  and without missing a beat Booth replied, “Well, you see what I mean.” Vintage Booth…we love you…

Samuel Mak, Class of 1990

I was originally a molecular biology freshman, from Hong Kong, a then British colony counting down to handover to China. I was very confused about my ‘national’ identity. Anyway, I needed some social science credits, so under influence of my Gillman Hall fellows, I took PoliSci 101. Liked it. Then took a political philosophy class in my sophomore year (1988) lectured by Prof Fowler. That was a game-changer! He didn’t just teach. His lectures always had a sustained effect that lasted for days (and nights). He made me think very deeply about life, worldview, history, now and future. My mind simply could not stop processing his words. And in typical Madison-style campus, I started discussing philosophy with people I met – in the dorms, State St cafes, in the library (I don’t smoke, but the ground floor of the library allowed smoking, if I remember correctly) and in those tailgating rituals. I really loved his teachings so much that I decided to switch my major to Poli Sci and IR. I took another Prof Fowler’s class later. I then went to Budapest in 1989-90 for a Year Abroad Program and witnessed first-hand the change there. Every day in Budapest, I revisited my notes and memories of Prof Fowler’s teachings. That alone was my ‘Coffee of the Day’. My career now requires me to use my Poli Sci skills and I named my company Madison…in large part because of my education at UW-Madison. Prof Fowler’s teaching is really a significant part of my career venture. I hope he is aware there is a Hong Kong student still thinking of him. Isn’t that a vote of confidence?