Standing in the shadows of Niebuhr: U.S. president Barack Obama and Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realism

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    Abstract

    U.S. president Barack Obama has called renowned Christian moral and political theologian Reinhold Niebuhr a major intellectual influence. Although Obama’s acknowledgement has been widely noted and discussed, a more systematic analysis and evaluation of the extent to which Obama has actually taken Niebuhr’s Christian realism as a guiding framework for his presidency does not seem to exist yet. Such an inquiry would be interesting and important, given Niebuhr’s status as greatest twentieth-century American theologian and highly influential public intellectual, and given the renewed academic interest in Niebuhr’s work fueled by both a widespread uneasiness about George W. Bush’s presidency and Obama’s reminder of Niebuhr’s authority. The present article - published on the 40th anniversary of Niebuhr’s death - aims to make a contribution by applying, in a rather ‘dynamic’ way, a set of key themes of Niebuhr’s Christian realism to Obama’s personal development, rhetoric, and policy practice so far. It finds tentatively that Obama’s reliance on Niebuhr is authentic and arguably more than superficial, yet does not appropriately incorporate the Niebuhrian core emphasis on sin. Thus, from a Niebuhrian perspective, Obama’s politics lacks theological depth, appearing unduly liberal and national egoistic. This article ends by suggesting that Obama does not, or at least not yet, seem to be a truly Niebuhrian president. Total number of words: approx. 19600.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number243
    Number of pages24
    JournalPhilica
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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