Several years ago when we first produced our biographical program on Reinhold Niebuhr, we did a considerable amount of research trying to verify the source of the Serenity Prayer and arrived at this understanding. Even Reinie himself questioned his inspiration.
For many others, the provenance of the oft-quoted verse remained uncertain, including Fred Shapiro, the Yale librarian who edits The Yale Book of Quotations. Skepticism reigned when it came to attributing the prayer to Niebuhr. But, with one graduate student’s research, Shapiro’s mind has been changed. With no clear-cut originating source, I’m sure most skeptics will never be fully comfortable proclaiming Reinie as the definitive source.
When we were producing this show, I planned on creating a way for people to submit photographs and descriptions of all the creative ways the Serenity Prayer has manifested itself in daily life — from home decor to bumper stickers, from church banners to working mottoes. I ran out of time. Perhaps this is a project worthy of reviving?
Image caption: portrait of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preaching at Union Theological Seminary. (photo: Gjon Mili//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)