Humility and Engagement: Reflections on the Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr with Dr. Bryant L. Cureton, President, Elmhurst College


Humility and Engagement: Reflections on
the Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr

Niagara Foundation continues to get connected with institutions on various levels. One of them is certainly building friendship and interfaith ties with educational institutions. Another attempt of Niagara Foundation to build friendship relations was with Elmhurst College. Niagara Foundation has short yet strong and everlasting friendship relations with Elmhurst College. The best example is that Niagara Foundation sent 26 professors, faculty and staff to Turkey in January for dialogue and friendship trip. “I am here in fact representing an institution that has a particular reason to be grateful to the Niagara Foundation as faculty and staff of Elmhurst College traveled to Turkey with the support and encouragement of Kemal and his colleagues and in May a group of students will go” noted Prof. Bryant Cureton, the president of Elmhurst College.

Before Prof. Cureton speech, Mahir M. Zeynul-Abidin, the Community Outreach at Niagara Foundation thanked everyone for coming and making Niagara Foundation for their favorite venue. Before reading Prof. Cureton’s résumé, Mahir invited everyone to watch a brief documentary about luncheon forums which are Niagara Foundation’s a-year-long initiative that hosted significant voices in Chicago area and beyond from clergy, community leaders, TV general managers, from local and city mayoral offices, governmental agencies, FBI, educational institutions, academicians and from other spheres of life. After the brief trailer, he read the résumé of Prof. Bryant Cureton and invited him to the tribune to speak on ‘The Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr in Diversity”.

Prof. Bryant Cureton, first of all, thanked everyone for coming and added that “it is a real pleasure to be with today and have a chance publicly to thank Niagara Foundation for its efforts to promote International friendship and understanding across cultural differences and I am here in fact representing institution that has a particular reason to be grateful to the Niagara Foundation”. He also noted that Niagara’s interfaith oriented works are very much appreciated and “these extraordinary luncheon forums have welcomed variety of representatives of different institutions including many institutions of higher learning in diversity and cross-cultural issues. He emphasized that a university like Elmhurst College – what college ought to be – should follow the footsteps of an ideal person, someone who can launch the idea of commitment and leadership in diversity, Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the greatest political scientists and teacher of giant political scientists like George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau and also the student and the late president of the Elmhurst College. Prof. Bryant Cureton thanked Niagara Foundation for taking students of Elmhurst College to Turkey in May which is an ‘invariable life-changing experience for students’. “We Elmhurst very much appreciate these support, partnership and encouragement with Niagara Foundation ensuring that this high quality of these learning experiences is in fact helping us to build citizens of the world.

Prof. Bryant Cureton then went on speaking about Reinhold Niebuhr’s works and his contribution to political science. According to Reinhold Niebuhr, man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Politics will, to the end of     history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of human life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises. For Niebuhr, democracy is a method     of finding proximate solutions for insoluble problems.

Prof. Bryant Cureton then talked about the children of light and darkness and the differences between them. According to Reinhold Niebuhr, the children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice. On the other hand, “the children of darkness are evil because they know no law beyond the self. They are wise, though evil, because they understand the power of self-interest.”  “The children of light are virtuous because they have some conception of a higher law than their own will. They are usually foolish because they do not know the power of self-will” however, “it must be understood that the children of light are foolish not merely because they underestimate the power of self-interest among the children of darkness.  They underestimate this power among themselves” he added. Prof. Cureton drew the conclusion about diversity that “only a great multitude of diverse, and sometimes contradictory,     traditions can serve to illumine the meaning and mystery of human existence. [Thus we must be devoted to] the principles of religious pluralism in an open society which allows the various religious faiths and traditions to contribute their treasures to our common fund.”

At the end of his speech, Prof. Cureton made a prayer which is written by Reinhold Niebuhr and was very famous at his time which was “O God, give us the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

After his speech, he addressed the questions asked by the audience. Mahir M. Zeynul-Abidin gave a very meaningful and precious gift to his president at Elmhurst College, a Turkish handicraft of Ebru with the Prof. Bryant Cureton’s name written on it. After all that, Mahir invited everyone to have delicious, home-made, Turkish food while portraying sweet picture of friendship and dialogue. Near the very end of the event, Prof. Bryant Cureton thanked Niagara Foundation and appreciated the level of luncheon forums. “I think these luncheon forums are just a great ideas bringing people together around international subjects and topics and fascinating group of people that you assembled here and I congratulate Niagara Foundation doing wonderful job creating these forums. ‘Luncheon Forums are exactly something to voice people like Niebuhr’ added Prof. Cureton.

The wife of Prof. Cureton, Mrs. Jeanette Cureton also thanked Niagara Foundation for their wonderful job. “I think this is just a marvelous example of value of dialogue and providing opportunities to connect people from different background or similar backgrounds to talk about important issues and share commonalities to help to reinforce the notion we all, after all, are people who have many of the same principles and beliefs and although we may have cite differences in our backgrounds. Nevertheless, we have very similar goals and what we want out of life and I think this is a marvelous example of what people achieve by dialogue. Again, I think I don’t know how you could say anything except congratulating to Niagara Foundation for being so forward-thinking and pro-active in doing what they have done to provide these opportunities and again, there are more than enough of ways of examples that we differ from each other and at the time when we focus more on these differences, we fail to see our commonalities and bringing people together who can talk and agree and share each other’s companionship and learning process is nothing but remarkable.”

Tuesday – March 27, 2007
11:30am- 1:00pm

205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 4240
Chicago, IL, US, 60601

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.