Public Radio’s Being Presents
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: The Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr"
Radio and Web project to document boundary-crossing
theologian and public policy shaper February 10-16
National Endowment of Humanities funds Being special program,
with expanded Web site and resources for public radio listeners and educators
(St. Paul, Minn.) February 2, 2005 — In the mid-20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr was consulted by Supreme Court justices, cold war strategists and poets. No religious figure since has taken his place as an influential, boundary-crossing theological voice in American life. Niebuhr challenged Christians as often as he consoled them, and was taken seriously by religious Americans and atheists alike.
Exploring his wide appeal, "Moral Man and Immoral Society: The Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr" will describe Niebuhr’s legacy and ask what wisdom he might bring to the political and religious dynamics of the early 21st century.
The program will look at Niebuhr’s foundational idea, "Christian realism" — a pragmatic middle way between religious idealism and religious arrogance. It will examine how his theology influenced leading figures in law, culture and politics, and how he continues to influence contemporary thinkers on the right and the left, in America and abroad. It will probe the enduring questions Niebuhr brought to the crises of his day, through public activism and such books as The Nature and Destiny of Man, Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Irony of American History. Niebuhr was also the author of "The Serenity Prayer," which is now translated and recited in virtually every language in the world.
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: the Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr" includes interviews with:
- Elizabeth Sifton, publisher, and daughter and biographer of Niebuhr;
- Richard Wightman Fox, University of Southern California intellectual historian and Niebuhr biographer;
- Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago political theorist;
- Max Stackhouse, Harvard ethicist;
- Robin Lovin, Southern Methodist University theologian and Niebuhr interpreter.
The program will also excerpt archived Being interviews with:
- Chris Hedges, New York Times correspondent;
- Charles Villa-Vicencio, South African theologian and Truth and Reconciliation Commission director of research;
- Reverend Peter J. Gomes, professor and minister of Harvard Universityís Memorial Church;
- Michael Cromartie, political commentator and vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The Being Web site (www.speakingoffaith.org) will be expanded to include many Web-exclusive features, including archival photographs; an extensive collection of Niebuhr’s correspondence; expanded interviews with the experts and associates who knew him; and maps and timelines illustrating his life and thought.
Being, hosted by Krista Tippett, is public radio’s weekly national conversation about belief, meaning, ethics and ideas. It is produced and distributed by American Public Media. Being does not always have "religion" itself as a subject. Week after week, it grapples with themes of American life — asking how perspectives of faith might distinctively inform and illuminate our public reflection.
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: The Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr" will be broadcast during Being program times nationwide Feb. 10-16. To locate public radio stations broadcasting Being, visit the program’s Web site, www.speakingoffaith.org.
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: The Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr" is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily represent those of the NEH.