Further information on Fall 2020 courses


Richard Crouter: Reinhold Niebuhr on Democracy in Perilous Times


Books for the course:

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and The Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of its Traditional Defense (1944), listed below as CLCD, is available at Content Bookstore and also in used editions. We will also be reading my 2010 book, Reinhold Niebuhr: On Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith, listed below as RN. To save on costs I will make my book available for you to read as a pdf file. If desired, and you want to get a break from sitting at a screen, you are free to order and purchase a print copy of RN (roughly $27 new, currently listed at bookfinder.com for $13 and up for a used edition). Occasional handouts will supplement our two texts.

Niebuhr’s career unfolded during the extreme crises of the 20th century (world war, depression, racial and economic strife). To my mind his teaching about the human condition (which resists the labels of “optimism” or “pessimism”) remains supremely relevant today. You are encouraged to keep track of “Niebuhr citations” and uses of his name by pundits, op-ed writers, or bloggers and to share your discoveries with the class.


Themes and Readings (subject to revision)

Sept. 15    Introduction to Niebuhr, his work, and the Niebuhr revival of recent years

View the 2017 PBS documentary film made by Martin Doblmeier, An American Conscience: The Story of Reinhold Niebuhr (58 min.)
Crouter, RN, chapter 1: Why Niebuhr in a New Era?, 3-18
Handout: 2-page bio and timeline

Sept. 22   His Fundamental View of Human Nature and the Vagaries of History

Crouter, RN, chapter 2: Taking the Long View of History, 19-40 and chapter 3: Recognizing Human Ambiguity, 41-58
Give out the Study Guide for CLCD.

Sept. 29   Idealism v. Cynicism in Seeking a Just Society

Niebuhr, CLCD, chapter I: The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 1-41

 Oct. 6      Classic tensions between the Individual and Community in Political Life

Niebuhr, CLCD, chapter II: The Individual and the Community, 42-85

Oct. 13     Economic Power, Property, and the Rights of the Less Privileged

Niebuhr, CLCD, chapter III: The Community and Property, 86-118
Crouter, RN, Chapter 4: Connecting with Wit and Words, 59-76

Oct. 20    The Difficulty and Necessity of Toleration in a Democratic Society

Niebuhr, CLCD, chapter IV: Democratic Toleration and the Groups of the Community, 119-152
Crouter, RN, chapter 6: Debating Politics and the Christian Faith, 96-115
Handouts: “Niebuhr on Jews and Christians;” “Niebuhr on Race”

Oct. 27     Justice on the World Stage: A Possibility or Utopian Illusion?

Niebuhr, CLCD, chapter V: The World Community, 153-190
Crouter, RN, Chapter 5: Revisiting America with Irony, 77-95

Nov. 3 (ELECTION DAY)   Assessing the Relevance of Niebuhr for Today’s World

RN, Chapter 7: Living with Niebuhr’s Legacy, 116-139
Handout: Reinhold Niebuhr, “A View of Life from the Sidelines,” (1967), originally published in The Christian Century (1984)