The late Jean Bethke Elshtain was the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Elshtain was a political philosopher whose task was to show the connections between our political and our ethical convictions. At Chicago, she taught in the Divinity School, as well as the Department of Political Science, and she addressed the Committee on International Relations on topics including just war, human identity, and political ethics.
In 2006, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and also delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, joining such previous Gifford Lecturers as William James, Hannah Arendt, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr.
She wrote or edited twenty books, including a textbook on just war theory. She also wrote widely for journals of civic opinion, and lectures, both in the United States and abroad, on whether democracy will prove sufficiently robust and resilient to survive. She is the author of more than 500 essays in scholarly and popular journals and is a contributing editor for The New Republic. Of her several hundred guest lectures at universities in the United States and abroad, over three dozen have been endowed lectureships.
She was appointed to her position at the University of Chicago in 1995. Past positions included faculty posts at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and at Vanderbilt University (where she was the first woman to hold an endowed professorship in the history of that institution). She had also been a visiting professor at Oberlin College, Yale University, and Harvard University. She was the recipient of nine honorary degrees and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996.
Elshtain was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, a scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference and Study Center, Como, Italy, and she was a Guggenheim Fellow. She also served on the Board of Trustees at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and she served on boards of the National Humanities Center, the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke, and the National Endowment for Democracy. She received the 2002 Frank J. Goodnow Award, the American Political Science Association’s highest award for distinguished service to the profession. In 2003–2004, she held the Maguire Chair in American History and Ethics at the Library of Congress.
Elshtain also served as co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and chair of the Council on Families in America. She has previously served as chair of the Council on Civil Society and a member of the National Commission for Civic Renewal and the Penn Commission on American Culture and Society.
Elshtain was born and raised in northern Colorado. A graduate of Colorado State University, she went on to earn a Master’s degree in history from the University of Colorado as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow before turning to the study of politics. She received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Politics in 1973. She was married and a mother to four children: Sheri, Heidi, Jenny, and Eric—and the grandmother of three: JoAnn Paulette Welch and Christopher Matthew Welch, and Robert Paul Bethke.
- Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1995)
- Democracy On Trial (1995)
- Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life (2002)
- Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (2003)
- Meditations on Modern Political Thought: Masculine/Feminine Themes from Luther to Arendt (1988)
- Real Politics: At the Center of Everyday Life (2000)
- Religion in American Public Life: Living with Our Deepest Differences (2001)
- Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (2008)
- The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals (2006)
- Who Are We?: Critical Reflections and Hopeful Possibilities (2000)