Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1928-) Fairfax M. Cone Professor Emeritus of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago and Director of the Public Religion Project; a foremost, objectively historical, and simultaneously scholarly and popular interpreter of American religious pluralism, its institutions, and behavior.

Born in 1928 in West Point, Nebraska, Marty is the son of pious Lutheran parents, his father a Lutheran schoolteacher. After studies at Concordia Seminary–St. Louis and ordination into the Lutheran ministry in 1952, he received his Ph.D. in American religious and intellectual history from the University of Chicago in 1956. After serving as a parish pastor, including seven years in a new Chicago suburb, he joined the University of Chicago Divinity School faculty in 1963, acting as mentor to countless dissertation students. He has written over 45 books (not counting prefaces for books by friends and students) and has had conferred on him more than 50 honorary doctorates. He has served for some 40 years as an editor of Christian Century magazine, since 1963 as coeditor of the quarterly Church History , and as editor-author of the fortnightly newsletter Context . He has pioneered in founding the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Faith, Health, and Ethics (Chicago), for which he has served as editor first of its journal Second Opinion and later of its newsletter Making the Rounds in Health, Faith, and Ethics .

He has been honored by election to memberships in the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Antiquarian Association, and the Society of American Historians. He is past President of the American Academy of Religion, American Society of Church History, and the American Catholic Historical Association. He has served as a Douglass lecturer for the Religious Research Association and a Furfey lecturer for the Association for the Sociology of Religion. In 1971, he won the National Book Award for Righteous Empire (Dial 1970). In 1996, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion bestowed upon him its second Career Achievement Award in its half century of existence, and the American Academy of Religion initiated a new award named in his honor.

Lutheran intellectual mentors have included R. R. Caemmerer and O. P. Kretzmann (Missouri Synod) and Joseph Sittler (Lutheran Church in America), and history mentors, Sidney Mead and Daniel Boorstin (University of Chicago). He sees himself as a historian-storyteller who is also a person-of-faith, whereby his "theology forms a cantus firmus [of the Christian Gospel] under the melodies that make up our stories." He sees history as the way to do theology but "does not set out to convert while engaging in open-ended conversation."

Marty sees the foci of his theological-historical vocation to be the themes of "pluralism" and "the public" in American life, "second-order themes for first-order stories of real life." He sees socioreligious pluralism as the human condition and "written into the script of history," although he is aware that the Scriptures hardly mention these concepts. He sees the Christian historian's task to be interpreting and relating "radical monotheism and anti-idolatrous faith . . . with the acceptance, enjoyment, and affirmation of pluralism" where "faith, other faith, and nonfaith meet." Accordingly, he also sees the local congregation as "public" and "pluralist," not private and homogeneous.

Ross P. Scherer


M. E. Marty, A Short History of Christianity (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980 [1959])

M. E. Marty, The Infidel (Cleveland: Meridian, 1961)

M. E. Marty, A Nation of Behavers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976)

M. E. Marty, The Public Church (New York: Crossroad, 1981)

M. E. Marty, Health and Medicine in the Lutheran Tradition (New York: Crossroad, 1983)

M. E. Marty, Religion and Republic (Boston: Beacon, 1987)

M. E. Marty, Under God, Indivisible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)

M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (eds.), The Fundamentalism Project , 5 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991-1995)

M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby, Modern American Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

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