Policy Plenaries: “Economy, Livelihood and Our Economic Priorities”

Dr. Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary & Columbia University

Gary Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. An Episcopal priest and lifelong athlete, he was previously the Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College, where he taught for 18 years and also served as Dean of Stetson Chapel and Director of the Liberal Arts Colloquium.

Prof. Dorrien is the author of 14 books and approximately 250 articles that range across the fields of ethics, social theory, theology, philosophy, politics, and history. He is described by Princeton University philosopher Cornel West as “the preeminent social ethicist in North America today”; by Boston University philosophical theologian Robert Neville as “the most rigorous theological historian of our time, moving from analyses of social context and personal struggles through the most abstruse theological and metaphysical issues”; and by University of Georgia philosopher Frederick Ferré as “a superstar interpreter of modern religious thought.”

Prof. Dorrien’s books include acclaimed works on economic democracy, social ethical theory, theories of myth and interpretation, Barthian neo-orthodoxy, and neoconservative politics. More than forty reviewers have described his trilogy, The Making of American Liberal Theology, as the definitive work in the field. The Expository Times called it “an endeavor best described, by all accounts, as magisterial, definitive, and authoritative.” The Journal of Markets and Morality called it “monumental, encyclopedic, breathtaking.”

Prof. Dorrien’s book Social Ethics in the Making, a comprehensive interpretation of social ethics as an academic field and a tradition of public discourse, won the Choice Award as the outstanding book in ethics of 2009.The Christian Century described it as “magnificent, sprawling, monumental, captivating, expertly written, and exhaustively researched…Social Ethics in the Making will soon be recognized as a classic.”

A frequent lecturer at universities, conferences, civic groups, and religious communities, Prof. Dorrien is a recent past president of the American Theological Society and has a long record of involvement in social justice organizations. His book, Imperial Designs, grew out of his extensive lecturing against the U.S.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. His book,Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice (Columbia University Press, 2010), features his lectures on economic democracy, racial and gender justice, and anti-imperial politics.

He has two books forthcoming in early 2012: Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology (Wiley-Blackwell), which makes an argument about the impact of Kantian and post-Kantian idealism on modern religious thought, and The Obama Question: A Progressive Perspective (Rowman & Littlefield), which makes a progressive critique and defense of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Prof. Dorrien teaches part-time as the Paul E. Raither Distinguished Scholar at Trinity College. His wife, Brenda Biggs, a Presbyterian minister, died of cancer in 2000, and his daughter Sara Biggs Dorrien graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in 2011.


Ellen Nissenbaum, Senior Vice-President for Governmental Affairs, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities

In her twenty-sixth year as Senior Vice President for Government Affairs for the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, Ellen directs the Center’s work with federal policymakers and with other national, state, and local organizations on a broad range of policy issues. These include federal budget and tax issues, Social Security, federal policies concerning Medicaid and health care, federal nutrition programs, federal low-income housing programs, unemployment insurance, and welfare reform policies.
She is regarded as one of the leading legislative directors among non-profit organizations in Washington and frequently is asked to provide support to a number of organizations coalitions by providing technical assistance, strategic guidance, and communications and messaging planning for their legislative activities.

Ellen is frequently sought out by many journalists at respected news outlets covering legislative and budget developments for her analyses and commentary on congressional developments.

Slides from Dr. Nissenbaum’s plenary

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