Gary Dorrien ’78
Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics
3041 Broadway, AD 413
New York, NY 10027
B.A., Summa Cum Laude, Alma College 1974
M.Div., Union Theological Seminary 1978
M.A., Princeton Theological Seminary 1979
Th.M., Princeton Theological Seminary 1979
Ph.D., Union Graduate School 1989
D.Litt., MacMurray College, 2005
D.D., Trinity College, 2010
L.H.D., Meadville Lombard Theological School, 2015
Gary Dorrien teaches social ethics, theology, and philosophy of religion as the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. He was previously the Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College, where he taught for 18 years and also served as Dean of Stetson Chapel and Director of the Liberal Arts Colloquium.
Professor Dorrien is the author of 19 books and more than 300 articles that range across the fields of social ethics, philosophy, theology, political economics, social and political theory, religious history, cultural criticism, and intellectual history. Philosopher Cornel West describes him as “the preeminent social ethicist in North America today.” Philosopher Robert Neville calls him “the most rigorous theological historian of our time, moving from analyses of social context and personal struggles through the most abstruse theological and metaphysical issues.” Philosopher Frederick Ferré describes him as “a superstar interpreter of modern religious thought.” Dorrien told an interviewer in 2016: “I am a jock who began as a solidarity activist, became an Episcopal cleric at thirty, became an academic at thirty-five, and never quite settled on a field, so now I explore the intersections of too many fields.”
In 2017 Dorrien won the Grawemeyer Award for his book The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel. The citation quoted social ethicist Emilie Townes, “This is classic Dorrien—beautifully written, cogent, and moving. Dorrien is ever the careful historian, ethicist, and astute cultural critic,” and theologian William Stacy Johnson, “This is a magisterial treatment of a neglected stream of American religious history presented by one of this generation’s premier interpreters of modern religious thought operating at the top of his game.”
In 2013 Dorrien won the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE Award for his book Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology. Theologian Catherine Keller wrote, “This is a brilliant and much needed book. Dorrien’s magisterial achievements to date lend his voice a special authority, but in this book, the reader is simply compelled by the deft interplay of nuance and overview.” Theologian Cyril O’Regan observed in Commonweal: “In its lucidity, comprehensiveness, and narrative power, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit is without equal. One can only marvel.”
In 2010 Dorrien won the Choice Award for his book Social Ethics in the Making, which Choice described as “simply the definitive history of Christian social ethics in the USA…masterful, careful, and encyclopedic.” The Christian Century characterized it as “magnificent, sprawling, monumental, captivating, expertly written, and exhaustively researched. Social Ethics in the Making will soon be recognized as a classic.”
More than 50 reviewers have described Dorrien’s trilogy, The Making of American Liberal Theology, as the definitive work in the field. Religious philosopher Nancy Frankenberry, in The Expository Times, called it “an endeavor best described, by all accounts, as magisterial, definitive, and authoritative.” Intellectual historian J. David Hoeveler, in Modern Intellectual History, said its “magnificent scholarship” set a new standard for religious intellectual history. The Journal of Markets and Morality called it “monumental, encyclopedic, breathtaking.” Theologian William Placher, reviewing volume three in The Christian Century, observed: “This book completes a magnificent scholarly accomplishment, drawing on published works, reviews, unpublished correspondence, manuscripts and interviews. He seems to have read everything.”
Dorrien has focused on economic democracy and social justice politics, post-Kantian philosophy, and modern theology throughout his career. His early books on these subjects include Reconstructing the Common Good (1990), The Neoconservative Mind: Politics, Culture, and the War of Ideology (1992), Soul in Society: The Making and Renewal of Social Christianity (1995), The Word as True Myth (1997), and The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology (2000).
Three of Dorrien’s books on social justice topics derive from his lecturing at universities, conferences, civic groups, and religious communities. Imperial Designs (2004) grew out of his extensive speaking against the U.S.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice (2010) features his lectures on economic democracy, racial and gender justice, and anti-imperial politics. The Obama Question: A Progressive Perspective (2012) draws upon lectures he delivered during President Obama’s first term.
Dorrien’s newest books are Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel and Imagining Democratic Socialism: Political Theology, Marxism, and Social Democracy, both published by Yale University Press in 2018. Historian John Fea, in The Christian Century, describes Breaking White Supremacy as “a deeply researched and beautifully written extension of Dorrien’s award-winning The New Abolition.” Religious studies scholar William D. Hart observes: “Monumental and meticulous, this is a fascinating work of intellectual history. Dorrien’s great contribution is to name and to illuminate a tradition—the Black social gospel—that had no name.” Imagining Democratic Socialism, to be published in November 2018, examines the intertwined history of Social Democracy, Marxism, and Christian socialism in Britain and Germany, making an argument for decentralized economic democracy.
Dorrien is currently completing a book on the religious philosophy underlying his work, titled In a Post-Hegelian Spirit: Idealism, Subjectivity, Religious Philosophy, and Liberation.
Dorrien has taught in recent years as the Horace De Y. Lentz Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School and the Paul E. Raither Distinguished Scholar at Trinity College. He lectures frequently in Germany, England, and Canada, and writes for Cross Currents, American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, Tikkun, Christian Century, Telos, Commonweal and other journals. His wife, Brenda Biggs, a Presbyterian minister, died of cancer in 2000; his partner Eris McClure is a fitness trainer; and his daughter Sara Biggs Dorrien-Christians and son-in-law William Christians are Presbyterian pastors in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Black Social Gospel (Fall 2017)
Justice and the World Order (Fall 2017)
Kant, Hegel and Modern Theology (Spring 2018)
Democratic Socialism (Spring 2018)