In Memoriam: Don S. Browning

browningUC

January 13, 1934 - June 3, 2010

Don S. Browning, the Alexander Campbell Professor Emeritus of Ethics and the Social Sciences in the Divinity School, former Dean of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago, and a central figure in the field of practical theology, died June 3 at his home in Chicago. He was 76.

On October 23, Divinity School Dean Margaret Mitchell led the Divinity School and the Disciples Divinity House in remembering Don Browning at a service in Bond Chapel. Tributes were given by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics; William Schweiker, Director of the Martin Marty Center and Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics; Kristine A. Culp, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of the Disciples Divinity House; and Elizabeth Marquardt, a former student. The tributes will be published in Criterion, a publication of the Divinity School.

Don Browning studied the intersection of psychology, moral philosophy, law, and religion. A prolific author and editor, he was equally esteemed as a mentor and colleague. His numerous works include The Moral Context of Pastoral Care, Generative Man, Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies, A Fundamental Practical Theology, and just this year, Reviving Christian Humanism. As the director of the Divinity School’s Religion, Culture and the Family Project, he became a catalyst in a wide-ranging discussion about religion, marriage, and family.

Don Browning was born January 13, 1934, in Trenton, Missouri. He received his BD (1959), AM (1962) and PhD (1964) from the University of Chicago Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar. He was an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He began his teaching career at the Graduate Seminary of Phillips University and then joined the Divinity School faculty in 1965. He retired from the faculty in 2002.

From 1977 to 1983, he was Dean of the Disciples Divinity House. Working with Norman Wells and House Scholars Michael Kinnamon, Don Pittman, Nancy TannerThies, he launched recruitment initiatives, renewed publications, and put in place a development program. In 1994-95, he co-chaired DDH’s Centennial with Bonnie Miller-McLemore. At that time, Don and Carol Browning, together with members of their extended family, established the Browning Family Fund. Don Browning continued as a trustee of the Disciples Divinity House until his death.

In 2009, he received DDH’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, an award that Mr. Browning had helped to establish in 1979. The award commended him for his scholarship and teaching, for his stewardship of the Disciples Divinity House, and "for friendship and colleagueship that dignify through dialogue and humanize through care and justice; for model citizenship in church, academy, and society; for a life well-lived and shared generously with others."

In June 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer, but he had continued a vigorous schedule until death drew very near. Don Browning is survived by Carol Kohl Browning - they met at the Disciples Divinity House and began a close life partnership by marrying in 1958—and also by their children, Elizabeth and Christopher, and two granddaughters, Kristin and Livia. 

A memorial service was held June 10 at Hyde Park Union Church. Family, friends, and colleagues gathered from near and far to mourn and to celebrate Don Browning's life. Richard Rosengarten, Robert Franklin, and Peter Browning offered eulogies; Christopher and Elizabeth Browning reflected on their father; Susan Johnson delivered the homily; hymns and music filled the sanctuary.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Browning Family Fund at DDH.


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A tribute to the vocation and intellectual work of Don S. Browning, June 7, 2010
by Herbert Anderson and Bonnie Miller-McLemore 

Don Browning, Divinity School scholar of marriage and the family, 1934–2010
University of Chicago Press release June 8, 2010 (also see below)

Pre-eminent Disciples Scholar Don Browning Dies
Disciples News Service, June 16, 2010

Don Browning, "A prayer for the lost DDH prayers," June 2005

Don S. Browning, "Are Disciples Christian Humanists?"
Distinguished Alumnus Address, August 1, 2009

About the Browning Family Fund
By Don and Carol Browning, July 2003

Fund Honors Browning
DDH Bulletin, Spring 2003

A Tribute to Don Browning, Spring 2003
Criterion, A Publication of the Divinity School

Don S. Browning, "Christian Humanism and Christian Vocation"
Convocation address, June 2002

 

Don Browning, Divinity School scholar of marriage and the family, 1934–2010
University of Chicago Press release June 8, 2010

browningGADon Browning, a professor in the Divinity School and a leading scholar on marriage in America, died June 3 at his home in Hyde Park. He was 76.

A service for Browning will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 10 at the Hyde Park Union Church. The Divinity School plans to hold an additional memorial service in the fall.

Don Browning, the Alexander Campbell Professor Emeritus of Ethics and the Social Sciences in the Divinity School, studied the influence of religion on American family life, as well as the intersection of psychology and religion. For more than a decade, he was the director of the Divinity School’s Religion, Culture and the Family Project.

"Don Browning was a stalwart and utterly collegial citizen of Swift Hall and the wider University," said Richard Rosengarten, dean of the Divinity School. "We miss him and we mourn his passing, even as we recall his myriad accomplishments."

Browning was born Jan. 13, 1934 in Trenton, Mo. He received his BD (1959), AM (1962) and PhD (1964) from the Divinity School. He was an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From 1977 to 1983, he was dean of the University of Chicago Disciples Divinity House.

Browning’s early work focused on the integration of psychology and pastoral care. His second book, Generative Man: Psychoanalytic Perspectives, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1974.

He was instrumental in the advancement of the practical theology movement, which emphasizes the integration of religious theory and religious practice. His 1991 book, A Fundamental Practical Theology, is widely considered a classic in the field.

In 1990, Browning received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to start the Religion, Culture and the Family Project. Over the course of the project, Browning examined the social implications of the decline of marriage. The research resulted in numerous books and scholarly articles, as well as a nationally televised, two–hour documentary, "Marriage: Just a Piece of Paper?"

"He had an amazingly capacious mind that could see how religious and moral questions need to be explored from a variety of vantage points," said William Schweiker, the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the College. "He could pinpoint the strength and weakness of an argument and indicate this in a forceful, but gentle way."

"It’s going to be impossible to find someone else to do what he did," said Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics in the Divinity School. "He represented something unique. He had an unusual combination of expertise. As a scholar of the family, he believed you had to look at history, you had to look at sociological context, you had to look at law."

browningsAs a colleague, "he was absolutely wonderful. He was thoughtful, engaged and attentive," Elshtain said. "If you wanted to construct an ideal colleague, he would be my image."

Browning, a longtime Hyde Park resident, was an avid moviegoer who loved spending time with his grandchildren and searching out local ethnic restaurants, said his son Chris.

In addition to his son, Browning is survived by his wife, Carol; his daughter, Elizabeth; and his granddaughters, Kristin and Livia.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Browning Family Fund at the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago. Donations can be sent to: 1156 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL 60637. They can also be made online at http://ddh.uchicago.edu.

 —Susie Allen