Cornel West, Gary Dorrien

Gary Dorrien on Social Ethics and Cornel West

My old adviser from Union, Gary Dorrien has put out a 48 page article in Cross Currents on Cornel West. Among the many things Dorrien does well, in doing histories, particularly theological histories, he has made quite a name for himself. In fact, in November Dorrien has his next book, Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition, coming out. It will fill a major gap in scholarship — finally we will have a book intended to be a history of Christian Social Ethics in America — and it’ll stand quite well on its own right. If you don’t believe me, read the comments below, copied from the Blackwell site.

After hearing about the book from Dorrien while he wrote it (actually in his class on the history of social ethics while he was writing the book) and looking at the table of contents for the book, I suspect that this Cornel West piece he wrote is part of a chapter from his forthcoming book. And let the reader take note, there is a free pdf link at the bottom of the page that lets one download the rest of the article, which by the way, is a jewel. So if you want a brief, but thorough history of Cornel West, or simply a taste for what this important book will be like, go read the article.

Table of contents for Social Ethics in the Making:
Introduction
1 Inventing Social Ethics: Francis Greenwood Peabody, William Jewett Tucker, and Graham Taylor
2 The Social Gospel: Washington Gladden, Josiah Strong, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Harry F. Ward
3 Lift Every Voice: Reverdy C. Ransom, Jane Addams, and John A. Ryan
4 Christian Realism: Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard Niebuhr, John C. Bennett, and Paul Ramsey
5 Social Christianity as Public Theology: Walter G. Muelder, James Luther Adams, John Courtney Murray, and Dorothy Day
6 Liberationist Disruptions: Martin Luther King Jr., James H. Cone, Mary Daly, and Beverly W. Harrison
7 Disputing and Expanding the Tradition: Carl F. H. Henry, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Novak, and Jim Wallis
8 Dealing With Modernity and Postmodernity: Charles Curran, James M. Gustafson, Gibson Winter, Cornel West, Katie G. Cannon, and Victor Anderson
9 Economy, Sexuality, Ecology, Difference: Max L. Stackhouse, Dennis P. McCann, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Marvin M. Ellison, 10 John B. Cobb, Jr., Larry Rasmussen, Daniel C. Maguire, Sharon Welch, Emilie M. Townes, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, María Pilar Aquino, and David Hollenbach
11 Borders of Possibility: The Necessity of “Discredited” Social Gospel Ideas
Index

“This book is a skillful tour de force and an indispensable resource. With his encyclopedic knowledge of the field of social ethics and his seasoned and fair analysis of issues and authors, Gary Dorrien is uniquely qualified to gift us with this masterpiece.” Daniel C. Maguire, Marquette University

“This book amplifies the canon while also providing ethical understandings, regarding both content and method, through which to look at the classical texts in the field. Written in a spirited style, the book will be used by students and scholars for years to come.” Dr Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Drew University

“Gary Dorrien once again has produced a magisterial volume that deserves to define a field. Social Ethics in the Making begins in the late 19th century with thinkers who sought to understand the “human condition” in social terms employing the emerging discipline of scientific sociology, concerned to embrace cultural, if not biological, evolution and yet desperate to distinguish social ethics from social Darwinism’s conservative congratulation of the dominance of the fittest. The pivotal figure in Dorrien’s account is Reinhold Niebuhr, who triggered reactions, in different senses, from both liberationists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary Daley, and Beverley W. Harrison, and conservatives and progressive-conservatives such as Carl Henry, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jim Wallis. Beginning primarily as a settlement-house/pro-labor movement, social ethics now is diversified into economic, sexual, ecological, and ethnic studies. Where many have seen the loss of power in social ethics’ ‘progressivism’, Dorrien documents its increasing power in diversification of attention. This is a brilliant, nearly comprehensive, study of an important historical movement in American religion.” Robert Neville, Boston University

Social Ethics in the Making is a masterly overview of a field with immense importance for today’s North American intellectual and political scene. Dorrien sorts out the complex trajectories of over a century of Christian ethics. He skillfully places scholarly currents within the cultural and ecclesial trends so essential to their interpretation. Looking forward, the book reclaims the vitality of a distinctively American brand of Christianity, one that promises to be just as energetic, provocative, and practical in this century as in the last. The scope and coherence of Dorrien’s achievement find no parallel among other treatments of the subject.” Lisa Sowle-Cahill, Boston University

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3 thoughts on “Gary Dorrien on Social Ethics and Cornel West

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White says:

    Thanks for this, D.W.! You were lucky, indeed, to have Dorrien at Union! I read most of Cornel West and I will download the article–and also look forward to his upcoming book.

    The only one of his histories that I had serious problems with was the one on “Barthians.” I don’t think he truly understood his subject, there. Not like he did with the Social Gospel, Evangelicals and, especially, the Liberal Tradition (his own). Dorrien is both an excellent historian of Christian thought AND a constructive social ethicist in his own right. It’s a rare combination.

  2. Michael Westmoreland-White says:

    I see that this focuses exclusively on the U.S. scene. Thus, the chapter on the Social Gospel neglects Tommy Douglass in Canada and John Clifford and Muriel Lester in the U.K.

  3. Yeah, Dorrien does follow America much of the time. However, there is a chance he’ll mention the Canadian influence, but that’ll depend on how significant he may think it to be. He wrote quite a bit on the Ritschlian School for that trilogy on American Liberal theology. So it may be possible, but he can also tend to use a tree to describe part of the forest. Which is what this book is.

    As for the Barth book, you may want to take another look at it? Granted I have only flipped through it. I’m unsure what your specific critique is, but he’ll be in Madison in October to talk about the Republic from work he did in that book. Then again, that conference will be about the history work he did in some of the book. Also, have you read The Word as True Myth? He basically says that one of his dialectical poles is Barth’s notion of the word, along with the old time social gospel. Albeit his construction is more complex than what I’ve just said, but still, Barth does play quite a big role… just like a lot of other theologies he studies. I have never met a person who draws from and affirms more traditions than him. Sometimes it seems amazing, other times I wonder how some of it can be maintained, despite some major inherent contradiction. Then again, this is the definition of dialectical. Hopefully he’ll get back to writing a book he has been meaning to for sometime — a fourth book to the American Liberal theology series, where he ties some traditions together and at the same time push them on ahead as well.

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