Fox, Richard Wightman 1945–
Fox, Richard Wightman 1945–
PERSONAL: Born November 27, 1945, in Boston, MA; son of Matthew Bernard (a television producer and writer) and Lucy (Pope) Fox; married Frances Diane Nieblack, September 16, 1967; children: Rachel, Christopher. Education: Stanford University, B.A., 1966, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1975; attended Yale University, 1966–67.
CAREER: Historian, educator, and writer. Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chung Chi College, Hong Kong, instructor in western civilization, 1967–68; Lycee Ibn Rouchd, Blida, Algeria, teacher of English, 1968–70; Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant professor of history and American studies, 1975–81; Reed College, Portland, OR, associate professor of history and humanities, 1981–88, Cornelia Marvin Pierce Professor of American Institutions and Humanities, 1988–90; Boston University, Boston, MA, professor of history, 1990–99, director of American Studies Program, 1990–97; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, professor of history, 2000–.
MEMBER: Organization of American Historians, American Studies Association, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowship from Stanford University, 1977; Morse fellowship from Yale University, 1979–80; research fellowship for college teachers from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1984–85; Graves Award in the humanities from Pomona College, 1986; Burlington Northern Award from Reed College, 1986; fellowship from Oregon Committee for the Humanities, summer, 1986; fellowship from American Council of Learned Societies, 1987–88; Guggenheim fellowship, 1988–89; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars fellowship, 1992–93; American Association of Publishers History Award, 1999, for Trials of Intimacy.
So Far Disordered in Mind: Insanity in California, 1870–1930, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1978.
(Editor, with T.J. Jackson Lears) The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor, with T.J. Jackson Lears) The Power of Culture: Critical Essays in American History, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
(Editor, with James T. Kloppenberg) A Companion to American Thought, Blackwell Publishers (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
(Editor, with Robert B. Westbrook) In Face of the Facts: Moral Inquiry in American Scholarship, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Washington, DC), 1998.
Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal (biography), University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1999.
Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
Contributor to numerous books, including How Human a Yardstick, edited by Carolyn Buan, 1983; 2084: Looking beyond Orwell, edited by John Witte, 1984; Reinhold Niebuhr and the Issues of Our Time, edited by Richard Harries, 1986; Religion and American Intellectual Life, edited by Michael Lacey, 1988; and Community in America: The Challenge of Habits of the Heart, edited by Charles Reynolds, 1988.
Contributor of articles and reviews to scholarly and popular journals, including American Quarterly, Wilson Quarterly, and New York Times Book Review. Member of editorial board, Journal of American History, 1989–92, Intellectual History Newsletter, 1990–96, and American Quarterly, 1992–93.
SIDELIGHTS: Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography is Richard Wightman Fox's critical look at one of America's most influential religious liberalists. Niebuhr was a Protestant theologian and author who preferred viewing himself as a teacher of ethics. His approach to Christianity has become known as "Christian Realism." As Julian N. Hartt wrote in the Washington Post Book World, Niebuhr was "for at least two generations, until his death in 1971,… religious liberalism's main American public figure." Also according to Hartt, "never has [Niebuhr's] life been so richly delineated as … Fox has drawn it here. Fox has written not only an excellent biography but a notable chapter in the history of American religious thought. It is also a notable feat of the imagination. Fox never saw or heard Niebuhr. Yet his portrayal of the man will surely strike many readers as executed from life. The moral passion, the formidable intellectual energy, the drive for domination, even the idiosyncratic pulpit and rostrum gestures, are all there." Additionally, a number of reviewers identified significant ambiguities in Niebuhr's thinking through the decades and the fact that Fox has skillfully brought them into focus. In the New York Times Book Review, for instance, Harvey Gallagher Cox remarked: "Fox has given us a colorful account of Niebuhr's life that is at once scrupulous and warmhearted. He gently undercuts some of the myths that Niebuhr himself did so little to challenge…. He also wisely refuses to smooth over Niebuhr's contradictions or unravel his inconsistencies." Overall, Fox's biography is highly esteemed as a work that "comes as close to being comprehensive as we are likely to see in an imperfect, Niebuhrian world. Based on meticulous research,… the book is written with a verve, grace, and depth of understanding worthy of its subject," noted David Brion Davis in the New York Review of Books.
In his book Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, Fox examines the 1875 scandal involving Reverend Henry War Beecher, brother of author Harriet Beecher Stowe. The reverend was accused of adultery with the wife of onetime friend and parishioner Theodore Tilton, who was an abolitionist newspaper editor. Commenting on those involved in the scandal, Margaret Bendroth, writing in the Christian Century, noted: "The cast of minor characters rival a 20th-century soap opera: duplicitous friends, jealous co-workers, nosy neighbors and, of course, the sexy siren who first broke the story, the notorious 'free love' advocate Victoria Woodhull." Bendroth went on to write: "But Fox is interested neither in issuing moral exonerations nor in determining whether or not Beecher and Mrs. Tilton were actually guilty of adultery," adding: "To Fox, the value of the Beecher-Tilton story is the wealth of documentary evidence left behind … and the chance to plumb the intricacies of a culture far different from our own." Patricia Cline Cohen, writing in the Wilson Quarterly, commented: "In making emotional sense out of one of the most perplexing events of late Victorian America, Fox has succeeded where many have failed." Cohen also called the history "an absorbing if demanding read and an extraordinary achievement."
Fox delves into the history of what Jesus Christ has meant to various Americans in his book Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession. The author tells his story chronologically, beginning with the Spanish arrival in the Americas as they brought with them their Christian beliefs. In the process, he addresses a wide range of issues and topics, including religious leadership and the tendency of some groups to take on Jesus as their own personal moral authority on political and social issues. "This is a popular history for the general reader, an historical narrative of 'the national infatuation with Jesus,' a primer on Jesus in America written in a friendly prose," noted J.A. Gray in First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. A Cross Currents contributor called the book an "expansive survey [that] explores the broad range of distinctly American views of Jesus."
Fox once commented to CA: "The most pressing concern for the scholarly writer in an age of overspecialized disciplines is to cultivate a style accessible to nonspecialists. Like Reinhold Niebuhr, I am trying to bridge the gap between journalism and scholarship, between a wide audience of ordinary readers and a narrow one of academic professionals. There are few models in America of the serious 'writer' in the British sense. We tend to equate 'writer' with 'writer of fiction' rather than 'essayist.' What we need are more essayists who are equally comfortable with scholarly methods and literate, non-esoteric expression."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, April, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography.
Christian Century, June 21, 2000, Margaret Bendroth, review of Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, p. 694; July 13, 2004, Randall Balmer, review of Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession, p. 30.
Cross Currents, winter, 2005, review of Jesus in America, p. 122.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, June-July, 2004, J.A. Gray, review of Jesus in America, p. 56.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Historian, winter, 2001, James A. Denton, review of Trials of Intimacy, p. 410.
Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1983, review of The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 30, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Maclean's, February 3, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Nation, January 14, 1984, review of The Culture of Consumption.
New Republic, March 31, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
New Yorker, March 24, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
New York Review of Books, February 13, 1986, David Brion Davis, review of Reinhold Niebuhr, p. 7.
New York Times, January 2, 1986, Walter Goodman, review of Reinhold Niebuhr, p. 15.
New York Times Book Review, January 5, 1986, Harvey Gallagher Cox, review of Reinhold Niebuhr, p. 1.
Time, January 20, 1986, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 1996, Hugh Kenner, review of A Companion to American Thought, p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, March 23, 1986, Julian N. Hartt, review of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2000, Patricia Cline Cohen, review of Trials of Intimacy, p. 131.