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Ronald Frank Thiemann Edit Profile

professor , theologian

Ronald Frank Thiemann was an American political theologian and Benjamin Bussey Professor of Theology at Harvard Divinity School.


Ronald Thiemann was born on October 4, 1946 in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, into the family of Frank Joseph and Marie Magdalene (Graeser) Thiemann.


Ronald received the Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He also held Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy degrees from Yale. Moreover, he earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1976, with a dissertation titled "A Conflict of Perspectives: The Debate between Karl Barth and Werner Elert."

In 1998, he received both an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus Ohio, and an honorary Doctor of Law from Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana.


Thiemann's teaching career began in 1975, when he was acting instructor in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. Before coming to Harvard Divinity School in 1986, Thiemann served for ten years on the faculty of Haverford College, where he chaired the religion department from 1978 through 1984 and served as acting provost and acting president.

Thiemann was appointed Dean and John Lord O'Brian Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School in 1986 and served in that capacity until he stepped down from the position as Dean in 1999 to devote his time fully to teaching, lecturing, and writing. Under his direction, the Divinity School received increasing recognition for its special interdisciplinary programs and curricular reforms aimed at reconnecting theological education to issues of public significance.

In 1992, Thiemann announced the formation at HDS of the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, a teaching and research center founded to examine the values that shape public policies and debates. Under his guidance, the Center's activities expanded to cover three overlapping areas: civil society and the renewal of public life; the environment; and international relations. Since 2006, Thiemann directed the Business across Religious Traditions initiative, an executive education program for business leaders.

He lectured widely, in both the United States and worldwide, in such places as Germany, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In 2006 he represented the U.S. National Academies of Science on a lecture tour of universities and research centers in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Thiemann's research focused on the relation of Christian theology to American public life. His book "Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy" includes a careful examination of Supreme Court cases on the separation of church and state and an evaluation of religion's role in a pluralistic democracy. He also edited and contributed to a number of other books. At the time of his death, he had just completed a new book, "The Humble Sublime: Literary Realism as Social Critique."


  • Ronald Thiemann was famous as the author of books "Christianity and the Many Faces of Marxism", "Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise", and "Public Theology: The Church in a Pluralistic Culture."



Thiemann was an ordained Lutheran minister.


Thiemann spoke and wrote frequently about communities and common social purpose and the value of religious discourse in the public arena — about "self-critical communities seeking to forge some sense of common aims and purposes from the diverse interests of their citizens."


  • chairperson of Narrative Interpretation and Christian Theology Research Group

    American Academy of Religion

    1982 - 1986

  • Handel and Haydn Society

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church

  • Society of Christian Ethics

  • American Theological Society


  • Sport & Clubs

    tennis, squash


On June 15, 1968 Ronald married Beth Arlene Barkow, with whom he had two common children: Sarah Elizabeth and Laura Kristen Thiemann. He also has two sons-in-law: William J. Connolly and Daniel Scales.

Frank Joseph Thiemann

Marie Magdalene (Graeser) Thiemann

Beth Arlene Barkow

Sarah Elizabeth Thiemann

Laura Kristen Thiemann

William J. Connolly

Daniel Scales