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THEN AS NOW, WHY NIEBUHR?

  • K. HEALAN GASTON (a1)
Extract

The literature on the life and legacy of the American Protestant thinker Reinhold Niebuhr has long been driven by questions about Niebuhr's continued relevance. Like other contributions to the recent “Niebuhr revival,” each of the three books under consideration here raises this question—John Patrick Diggins's Why Niebuhr Now? (2011) by offering a series of “sympathetic reflections” on Niebuhr's central claim that human beings are both creatures and creators of history (ix); Daniel F. Rice's edited volume Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited (2009) by inviting a cadre of top Niebuhr scholars to make the case for Niebuhr's relevance to a new generation; and Rice's own Reinhold Niebuhr and His Circle of Influence (2013) by contending that close attention to Niebuhr's formative relationships sheds light on his ongoing relevance.

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1 Other recent writings on Niebuhr have come from the pens of Carnahan, Kevin, Cone, James H., Cooper, Terry D., Crouter, Richard, Mark Thomas, Edwards, Finstuen, Andrew S., Halliwell, Martin, Harries, Richard, Hollinger, David A., Holder, R. Ward and Josephson, Peter B., Lemert, Charles C., Lovin, Robin W., Stone, Ronald H., Tjalve, Vibeke Schou, and the contributors to Harries, Richard and Platten, Stephen, eds., Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics: God and Power (New York, 2010), among others.

2 Gaston, K. Healan, “The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Rise of the New Right,” Journal of American History, 99/4 (March 2013), 1109–32; Gaston, “‘A Bad Kind of Magic’: The Niebuhr Brothers on ‘Utilitarian Christianity’ and the Defense of Democracy,” Harvard Theological Review, 107/1 (forthcoming, Jan. 2014), 130.

3 Douglas, Mark, Henson-Hasty, Elizabeth, et al., “Fifty Years of Reflection on Valerie Saiving,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 28/1 (Spring 2012), 75131; Miles, Rebekah, “Uncredited: Was Ursula Niebuhr Reinhold's Coauthor?Christian Century, 129/2 (25 Jan. 2012), 30–33.

4 Niebuhr, Ursula M., ed., Remembering Reinhold Niebuhr: Letters of Reinhold & Ursula M. Niebuhr (San Francisco, 1991), 306.

5 Sifton, Elizabeth, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War (New York, 2003), 316.

6 Rice, Reinhold Niebuhr Revisited, 21–2.

7 Stephens, Randall, “Beyond the Niebuhrs: A Conversation with Robert Orsi on Recent Trends in American Religious History,” Historically Speaking, 7/6 (July/Aug. 2006), 811.

8 Finstuen, Andrew S., Original Sin and Everyday Protestants: The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, and Paul Tillich in an Age of Anxiety (Chapel Hill, 2007); and Edwards, Mark Thomas, The Right of the Protestant Left: God's Totalitarianism (New York, 2012), 67.

9 Hollinger, David A., After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, 2013), 211, 218.

10 Ibid., 211.

11 Cornel West, “Foreword,” in Niebuhr, Reinhold, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Louisville, KY, 2013), xi.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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