Don Browning, Divinity School scholar of marriage and the family, 1934–2010

Don Browning, a professor in the Divinity School and a leading scholar on marriage in America, died June 3 at his home in Hyde Park. He was 76.

A service for Browning will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 10 at the Hyde Park Union Church. The Divinity School plans to hold an additional memorial service in the fall.

Don Browning, the Alexander Campbell Professor Emeritus of Ethics and the Social Sciences in the Divinity School, studied the influence of religion on American family life, as well as the intersection of psychology and religion. For more than a decade, he was the director of the Divinity School’s Religion, Culture and the Family Project.

“Don Browning was a stalwart and utterly collegial citizen of Swift Hall and the wider University,” said Richard Rosengarten, dean of the Divinity School. “We miss him and we mourn his passing, even as we recall his myriad accomplishments.”

Browning was born Jan. 13, 1934 in Trenton, Mo. He received his BD (1959), AM (1962) and PhD (1964) from the Divinity School. He was an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From 1977 to 1983, he was dean of the University of Chicago Disciples Divinity House.

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.”

“It’s going to be impossible to find someone else to do what he did,” said Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics in the Divinity School. “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. “If you wanted to construct an ideal colleague, he would be my image.”

Browning, a longtime Hyde Park resident, was an avid moviegoer who loved spending time with his grandchildren and searching out local ethnic restaurants, said his son Chris.

In addition to his son, Browning is survived by his wife, Carol; his daughter, Elizabeth; and his granddaughters, Kristin and Lydia.

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