Hearts of Darkness: American Protestants and the Doctrine of Original Sin, 1945-1965

Andrew Finstuen
History, Boston College

Date: April 13, 2005

Event Recap

On April 13th, Andrew Finstuen, a graduate student in the History department at Boston College, presented work from his dissertation research in a talk titled “Hearts of Darkness: American Protestants and the Doctrine of Original Sin, 1945-1965.” In his presentation, Finstuen discussed the intellectual discourse around the concept of human nature and sin as can be observed in the writings and speeches of Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Billy Graham and by examining the popular and specialized literature of that period. Although distinctive in their audiences, Fiinstuen argues that Niebuhr Tillich and Graham are connected in their views of sinfulness. He believes that the doctrine of original sin played a larger role than previously thought among lay believers regardless of age, gender, denomination or education. This argument offers a counterpoint to those who believe that the influence of theological worldviews, particularly among lay believers, declined among Protestants in the mid-twentieth century. Finstuen argues that these conversations about the role of sin in human nature helped ordinary lay Protestants to make sense of the cataclysmic events they were witnessing in their present lives including economic instability, depression, World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.