Abraham Friesern was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on December 20, 1933, to Dutch Mennonite parents who had migrated from Siberia, Russia, in 1926. One of eleven children, he grew up on a farm near the town of LaSalle, Manitoba, and attended a one-room country school for his first four grades, moving to a “consolidated” school of four rooms in Oak Bluff, Manitoba, for the next four grades. His high school years were spent in the city of Winnipeg at a private school. He received his university training at the University of Manitoba (BA ’58 and MA ’62), the University of Göttingen (1957–58), Stanford University (Ph.D. ’67) and the Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany (’65 to ’67). From 1960 to 1963 Friesen taught at a private high school in Winnipeg, and in the summer of 1967, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Renaissance and Reformation History at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He remained there for the entire thirty-seven years of his teaching career, retiring in 2004. Together with his wife, Gerry, he now lives in Fresno, California.
Friesen is the author of the following major studies: Reformation and Utopia: the Marxist Interpretation of the Reformation and its Antecedents (1974); Thomas Müntzer, A Destroyer of the Godless (1990); History and Renewal in the Anabaptist / Mennonite Tradition (1994); Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission (1998); In Defense of Priovilege: Russian Mennonites and the State before and during World War I (2006); and Reformers, Radicals, Revolutionaries: Anabaptism in the Context of the Reformation Conflict (2012). He has published some eighty essays, articles, chapters in various learned venues, translated some three major studies: one from the sixteenth century, one from the nineteenth, and one from the early twentieth century. Over the years, Friesen has lectured widely in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Paraguay, delivering a number of endowed lectureships.