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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story

documentary film screening and panel discussion


Film screening and panel discussion

Featuring filmmaker Martin Doblmeier and scholars Lisa Sowle Cahill, Andrew Finstuen, Mark Massa, S.J., Jeremy Sabella, and Erik Owens.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Simboli Hall 100 (Brighton Campus) • 5:30 pm

Co-sponsored with the Theology Department and the History Department

Abstract: This film offers a comprehensive treatment of the life and thought of one of America's most important public intellectuals and ethicists, Reinhold Niebuhr. Guided by acclaimed filmmaker Martin Doblmeier and the best Niebuhr scholars in the world, the film foregrounds Niebuhr as an ethical source for resistance to the Nazis (Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied with Niebuhr), promotion of civil rights (Martin Luther King, Jr. credits Niebuhr in “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”), advocacy for Democratic organization, stimulus for cold war foreign policy, and inspiration to Alcoholics Anonymous (Niebuhr authored the Serenity Prayer). Doblmeier will weave these threads together in “real time” with the effect of introducing Americans to one of the most pivotal American figures they never knew.

This film promises renewed ethical consideration of the American experiment. It shows how Niebuhr became a voice of conscience amid depression, war, and racism. The film also charts his endurance as an ethical touchstone for contemporary economic, racial, and global challenges.

Lisa Cahill

Lisa Sowle Cahill is the J. Donald Monan professor of theology at Boston College. Cahill has taught at Boston College since 1976 and has also been a visiting professor at Georgetown and Yale Universities. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Society of Christian Ethics. Her research interests include the history of Christian ethics, New Testament ethics, Catholic social ethics, feminist theology, bioethics, and the ethics of war and peace.  

Martin Doblmeier

Martin Doblmeier holds degrees in religious studies and broadcast journalism, and honorary degrees in fine arts and humane letters. Since 1984 he has produced and directed more than 30 films focused on religion, faith, and spirituality. Martin combines a lifelong interest in religion with a passion for storytelling. Over the years he has traveled on location to more than forty countries to profile numerous religious leaders, spiritual communities, heads of state, and Nobel Laureates.  His films explore how belief can lead individuals to extraordinary acts, how spirituality creates and sustains communities, and how faith is lived in extraordinary ways.

Andrew Finstuen

Andrew Finstuen is the Dean of the Honors College and Interim Vice Provost at Boise State University. Prior to his arrival at Boise State University, Finstuen directed the International Honors Program at Pacific Lutheran University, served as a Lilly Fellow in Humanities and History in the Honors College at Valparaiso University, and was the Assistant Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. Finstuen teaches courses in modern American history, the history of American Christianity, and the history of genocide and mass killing. His first book, Original Sin and Everyday Protestants: The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, and Paul Tillich in an Age of Anxiety (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) won the 2010 American Society of Church History’s Brewer Prize.

Mark Massa

Fr. Mark S. Massa, S.J. was born and raised in Ohio, and educated at the University of Detroit, the University of Chicago, and Harvard. He received his M.Div. from the Weston School of Theology in 1980. After ordination he lived for a year in North Cambridge (St. John the Evangelist).  At Fordham, Fr. Massa was the Karl Rahner, S.J. Professor of Theology, and directed the American Studies Program for 12 years.  In 2001 he founded and directed the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.  Fr. Massa will be on sabbatical during the 2016-2017 academic year, before returning to serve as the new director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life.

Headshot of Erik Owens

Erik Owens is interim director of the Boisi Center and associate professor of the practice in theology and international studies at Boston College. His research explores a variety of intersections between religion and public life, with particular attention to the challenge of fostering the common good of a religiously diverse society. His interdisciplinary scholarship bridges the fields of theological ethics, political philosophy, law, education, international studies, and public policy. 


Jeremy Sabella obtained a Ph.D. in theology from Boston College in 2013. His dissertation, entitled “The Politics of Original Sin,” examines how the concept of original sin shaped U.S. foreign policy in the early Cold War era. He has taught courses on theology, ethics, and American religious history at Yale Divinity School, Fairfield University, and Kalamazoo College. He is the author of An American Conscience’s companion volume, slated for release in April 2017 by Eerdmans.

Niebuhr Documentary Trailer
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Check out two pieces on the enduring lessons of Reinhold Niebuhr in Stephen Bates's What Reinhold Niebuhr Can Tell Us About Donald Trump and David Gushee's How Reinhold Niebuhr speaks to 2016 American Politics. The Boisi Center will host a film screening and panel discussion of Martin Doblmeier's An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story on February 1.