Theology is Women's Work

The close intellectual partnership between Reinhold Niebuhr and his wife has been a subject of interest in recent years (For more on this, see this article by Rebekah Miles). By any measure, Ursula Keppel-Compton Niebuhr, who founded and headed the religion department at Barnard College, a stone's throw away from where Reinhold taught at Union Theological Seminary, was a remarkable scholar, teacher and leader in her own right.

As I've recently begun to read or re-read as much Reinhold Niebuhr stuff as I can get my hands upon, I ran across this remarkable "confession" in the intro to one of his later books. Note especially the part I put in bold typeface.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Man's Nature and His Communities (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965), pp. 28-29.

Writing these lines in my old age and being conscious of the spiritual and intellectual debt I owe my wife, not to speak of more precious debts incurred in decades of a happy marriage, I must close this autobiographical introduction with a confession. I do not know how much Ursula is responsible for modifying my various forms of provincialism and homiletical polemics. But I know she is responsible for much of my present viewpoint and that it would be difficult for either of us to mark any opinion expressed in these pages as the unique outlook of one or the other. This volume is the fruit of a lifetime of study in the field of social ethics and political philosophy, dealing with problems we have discussed together and in which we have had parallel interests. I know my wife is the more diligent student of biblical literature and of the relation of psychology to literature and social dynamics. I cannot, therefore, promise that this summary of my lifework is strictly my own. I will not elaborate an already too intimate, autobiographical detail of a happy marriage except to say that this volume is published under my name, and the joint authorship is not acknowledged except in this confession. I will leave the reader to judge whether male arrogance or complete mutuality is the cause of this solution.

So which is it, gentle readers, "complete mutuality" or "male arrogance"? At any rate, as with other texts I have published by Scribners, it's his name and mugshot on the front cover, not hers.



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