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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Bonhoeffer's Transformative Encounters with the American Prophetic Tradition

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life


The 14th Annual Prophetic Voices Lecture

Charles Marsh
University of Virginia

Date: Thursday, October 8, 2015
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM
Location: Higgins 300

The Boisi Center will live-tweet the event. Join the conversation at #PropheticVoices.  

Boston College Bookstore will be at the event and Dr. Marsh will be available to sign copies of his book, Strange Glory.

Abstract: As a young academic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent the 1930­–1931 academic year studying at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. At first dismissive of American attitudes toward religion, he left with a dramatically transformed perspective on social engagement, faith and historical responsibility. He began to put aside his professional ambitions and to look for resources in the Christian (and increasingly in the Jewish) tradition that might inspire and sustain dissent and civil courage. By the end of April 1933, Bonhoeffer made his first public defense of the Jews and condemnation of the Aryan Clause; he explained that the church was compelled not simply to "bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam the spoke in the wheel itself."

What happened to Bonhoeffer while he was in America? This question gives narrative focus and energy to the story Marsh wishes to tell. In the America of the 1930s, among a nearly forgotten but venerable generation of religious radicals, social gospel reformers, and African American prophets, among the shapers of the labor movement, the heroes of the old reformist Left, and among the women and men who plowed the soil for the civil rights movement to come, Bonhoeffer reexamined every aspect of his vocation as pastor and theologian, and he embarked upon what he would call "the turning from the phraseological to the real." His "journey to reality" is the plot that frames my lecture.


Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where he is the director of the Project on Lived Theology. His research focuses on modern Christian thought in its social context, with a special interest in the civil rights movement. His most recent book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, details Bonhoeffer’s development into the revolutionary theologian who challenged the Nazification of the German Church and who was ultimately executed for treason against the fascist state. He is also the author of Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology, a work praised as “a theological sensation” by Eberhard Bethge, a confidant of Bonhoeffer himself. Marsh’s other publications include God’s Long Hot Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From the Civil Rights Movement to Today. He received a B.A. from Gordon College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and an M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Virginia.

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In the News

While many hoped that the election of the first African-American president in President Obama would heal the wounds of the past and inaugur a new era free of racism, many issues of race persist. One of the more prominent issues is the mass incarceration of African-Americans, which contributes greatly to the socio-economic plight of so many African-American families. In his upcoming talk, Charles Marsh will address how the racial tensions Bonhoeffer witnessed during his brief time in the United States reshaped the theologian's understanding of his own faith.