Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Commentary, Philosophy

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story

This April, Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s documentary about the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, debuts on public television. The film explores the life of Niebuhr, theological liberalism’s best-known promoter (author of the “Serenity Prayer”), and how he positioned himself as a voice of conscience during some of the twentieth-century’s most potent times of racial unrest, depression, and global conflict. Hal Holbrook reads as Niebuhr, and the film includes interviews with Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young, David Brooks, Cornel West, and others. You can read more at the Journey Films website, and in the interim, here’s a list of works by and about Niebuhr, published by the University of Chicago Press.


The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defensefirst published in 1944, is considered the standard bearer of Niebuhr’s philosophy, which took up the timely question of how democracy as a political system could best be defended.

The Irony of American History, cited by politicians as diverse as Hillary Clinton and John McCain, posits the incongruity between personal ideals and political reality as both an indictment of American moral complacency and a warning against the arrogance of virtue.

Why Niebuhr Now? by John Patrick Diggins tackles the complicated question of why, at a time of great uncertainty about America’s proper role in the world, leading politicians and thinkers are turning to Niebuhr for answers.

On Niebuhr: A Theological Study by Langdon Gilkey offers a detailed—and not uncritical—examination of Niebuhr, as one of the most influential American theologians of the twentieth century.