Adams, James Luther, 1901-1994

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1901-11-12
Death 1994-07-26
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

James Luther Adams (1901-1994) is considered to be the most influential theologian among Unitarian Universalists in the twentieth century. He was born in Washington and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1924, and from Harvard Divinity School in 1927. He was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1927 in Salem, Massachusetts and he served the congregation there until 1934. He was also a minister in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts from 1934 to 1935. He taught at the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago from 1936 to 1943. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1945 and in 1957 he joined the faculty of the Harvard Divinity School where he was Professor of Christian Ethics.

From the description of Adams, James Luther, 1901-1994. German Church Leaders, Films c. 1930s. (Harvard University, Divinity School Library). WorldCat record id: 182061993

James Luther Adams (1901-1994) is considered to be the most influential theologian among American Unitarian Universalists in the twentieth century. He was born in Ritzville, Washington, and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1924 and Harvard Divinity School in 1927. He was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1927 at the Second Church in Salem, where he served as minister until 1934. He was also a minister in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, from 1934 to 1935. Adams taught at the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago from 1936 to 1943, and in 1946 he earned a PhD from the University of Chicago. In 1957, he left Chicago to join the faculty of Harvard Divinity School, where he was Professor of Christian Ethics. He retired from Harvard in 1968, but continued to teach at Andover Newton Theological Seminary and Meadville Lombard. In his teaching, Adams promoted the works of Paul Tillich, Ernst Troeltsch, and Karl Holl, and focused on the theology of social ethics.

From the guide to the Adams, James Luther, 1901-1994. Papers, 1981-1986., (Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School)

From the guide to the Adams, James Luther, 1901-1994. German Church Leaders, Films, ca., s., 1930, (Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School)

James Luther Adams (1901-1994) was a Unitarian parish minister, social activist, journal editor, scholar, author and divinity school professor for more than forty years.

From the description of Papers of James Luther Adams, 1981-1986 (Harvard University, Divinity School Library). WorldCat record id: 768584818

James Luther Adams (1901-1994) was a Unitarian parish minister, social activist, journal editor, distinguished scholar, translator and editor of major German theologians, prolific author, and highly respected divinity school professor for more than forty years.

Born to fundamentalist Christian parents in eastern Washington state, during his college years he turned to Unitarianism; after graduation from the University of Minnesota he went to Harvard Divinity School and began his search for "a faith which could be held intellectually accountable." He served as pastor for two Massachusetts Unitarian churches while earning a Master's degree in comparative literature from Harvard and teaching English at Boston University. A strike at the Pequot Mills in Salem during his pastorate led him to address local labor issues from the pulpit, demonstrating his growing belief that "a liberal church can and should make itself a faithful voice for the voiceless oppressed."

In 1935 Adams joined the faculty of Unitarian and Universalist Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago, where he was to remain until 1943. Before beginning his work there he requested and received a one-year leave to study in Europe, where he became involved with the underground church movement opposing the Nazi regime. His experience there confirmed his feeling that the church could and should be directly outspoken against evil rather than relying on vague sermons about love and tolerance.

Adams' teaching was not limited to Meadville/Lombard, nor did he cease his own learning. He was on the faculty of the Federated Theological Faculties of the University of Chicago from 1943 to 1956 and in 1945 earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He became involved with local politics, an advocate of open and honest government, and a friend of liberal politicians Paul Douglas and Adlai Stevenson. In 1957 Adams returned to Harvard Divinity School as a professor, where he stayed until 1968; he continued to teach at Andover Newton Theological Seminary and Meadville/Lombard.

Adams' writings focused largely on the theology of social ethics and addressed a comprehensive range of topics, from politics to the arts and from angels to AIDS. He also wrote extensively on the history and theory of voluntary associations in a democratic culture. Adams was also interested in liberal German theologians, and among his other writings he found time to translate, edit and interpret the works of Paul Tillich, Ernst Troeltsch, and Karl Holl.

Adams' fascination with the history and origin of ideas led Edwin Wilson, leader of the Unitarian humanists, to remark, "James Luther Adams believes in salvation by bibliography." Adams's reply was, "There is no such thing as the immaculate conception of an idea." Although his impatience with abstraction and his criticism of liberal religion rankled some of his more established colleagues, he was deeply respected by a great many Unitarians as a constructive reformer, worth listening to for the depth and breadth of his concerns.

[Adapted from the article "James Luther Adams," in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography .]

From the guide to the James Luther Adams Papers, ca. 1921-1990, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

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Subjects:

  • Ideology--Religious aspects
  • Theology
  • Religion and ethics
  • Theology--Study and teaching
  • Church and state--History--1933-1945
  • Theologians--United States
  • Religion and philosophy
  • Religion and state--United States
  • Unitarian Universalists--United States
  • Educators--United States
  • Church and clergy
  • Religion--Study and teaching

Occupations:

  • Theologians
  • Educators

Places:

  • Germany (as recorded)