Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1892-1971) Neo-orthodox theologian and social ethicist; older brother of H. Richard Niebuhr.

A graduate of Yale Divinity School (B.D., 1914; M.A., 1915), Niebuhr served (1915-1928) as pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, where be became deeply involved in industrial social problems, especially labor union affairs, and disillusioned by Social Gospel optimism. He began teaching at Union Theological Seminary of New York in 1928 and was appointed Professor of Applied Christianity in 1930, a post he held until retirement in 1960. Niebuhr's break with the na´vetÚ of liberal Protestant theology was signaled by the publication of Moral Man and Immoral Society (Scribner 1932), in which he argued that only human beings can act morally; justice is the most one can expect from social groups. His approach to politics was described as "political realism," a stance consistent with his ethical thought. Niebuhr exercised considerable influence over theologians, governmental leaders, and social scientists.

William R. Garrett


R. W. Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr (San Francisco: Harper, 1985)

G. Harland, The Thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960)

R. Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man , 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1941-1943)

R. Niebuhr, Faith and History (New York: Scribner, 1949)

R. Niebuhr, Man's Nature and His Communities (New York: Scribner, 1965).

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