Niebuhr Society at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
Religion and Philosophy
The title of my paper is an indication of where I began my thinking about this project. I was convinced from the start that Niebuhr’s and Bellah’s most significant disagreement would be how they viewed the role of collective life. Second, I assumed that they would have their most significant area of agreement on the moral capacity and responsibility of individuals. If you focus on Niebuhr’s early work, especially in Moral Man and Immoral Society and Bellah’s mature work today, these assumptions are generally true. Further, I still expected some broad lines of continuity in the work of these two committed “orthodox” Christians speaking from a “realist” perspective about their faith and their commitment to just societies. Again, the continuity is present, especially in their many parallel insights and in their commitment to a socially engaged Christianity, working in conversation with many of the same social thinkers, either personally or through their writings. Needless to say, this only begins to tell the story of two complex social thinkers, speaking from what they considered to be profound theological truths about the world. The full story of the continuity and discontinuity of Bellah and Niebuhr will have to unfold with more work on this project by many others. What I offer is a way to get started and to involve others in the project.
Stelmach, Harlan, "Niebuhr’s Immoral Society and Bellah’s Good Society: A Conversation about Moral Man" (2008). Collected Faculty and Staff Scholarship. 57.