Serenity Prayer Skeptic Now Credits Niebuhr





A Yale librarian who cast doubt last year on the origins of the Serenity Prayer, adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and reprinted on countless knickknacks, says new evidence has persuaded him to retain the famed Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as the author in the next edition of The Yale Book of Quotations.

The provenance of the prayer, which begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” became a subject of controversy last year with the publication of an article by the librarian, Fred R. Shapiro, who is also the editor of the book of quotations. Mr. Shapiro had found archival materials that led him to express doubt that Niebuhr was the author.

But now another researcher trawling the Internet has discovered evidence that attributes the prayer to Niebuhr. The researcher, Stephen Goranson, works in the circulation department at the Duke University library, has a doctorate from Duke in the history of religion and, as a sideline, searches for the origins of words and sayings and publishes his findings in etymology journals. This month he found a Christian student newsletter written in 1937 that cites Niebuhr as the prayer’s author.

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