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 pivotal figure in the field of practical theology, died June 3 at his home in Chicago. He was 76.
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, A Fundamental Practical Theology, and just this spring, Reviving Christian Humanism. He was a catalyst in a wide-ranging discussion about religion, marriage, and family. For more than a decade, he was the director of the Divinity School’s Religion, Culture and the Family Project.
Don S. Browning was born Jan. 13, 1934 in Trenton, Mo. 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). From 1977 to 1983, he was dean of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago. In 2009 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Disciples Divinity House, and he was serving as DDH trustee at the time of his death.
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."
Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics in the Divinity School said, "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." As a colleague, "he was absolutely wonderful. He was thoughtful, engaged and attentive," Elshtain said.
Browning is survived by Carol Kohl Browning, to whom he was married for over 60 years; their children, Elizabeth and Christopher; and his granddaughters, Kristin and Lydia.
A funeral service was held on June 10 at the Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago. The University of Chicago Divinity School plans to hold an additional memorial service in the fall.
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.