K. Healan Gaston

K. Healan Gaston

Lecturer in American Religious History and Ethics
K. Healan Gaston


  • BA, Brown University
  • PhD, University of California at Berkeley


K. Healan Gaston is Lecturer on American Religious History and Ethics at Harvard Divinity School for 2021–22. She is the author of Imagining Judeo-Christian America: Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2019), the first comprehensive study of “Judeo-Christian” constructions of American democracy and national identity. She is currently writing a second book—part history and part ethics—that circles outward from a fascinating intellectual relationship between two leading mid-twentieth-century thinkers who also happened to be brothers: the Christian ethicist and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr and his younger brother, the theologian and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr. Her work on this project builds on a remarkable set of previously unknown letters between the Niebuhr brothers that Gaston discovered in the HDS archives in 2008. A former president of the Niebuhr Society, Gaston also served as a senior advisor to the filmmaker Martin Doblmeier on his recent documentary Reinhold Niebuhr: An American Conscience. Before coming to HDS, she taught in Harvard’s Social Studies and Freshman Seminar programs. A specialist in the history of religious thought, ethics, and theology, Gaston teaches courses on religion’s roles in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the United States, focusing especially on how that history speaks to the ethical dilemmas we face in a diverse society. Her interests include religious pluralism, secularism and secularization, religion and the law, the ethno-religious and religio-racial dimensions of American experience, interfaith religions, and religion's changing place in an increasingly global, corporate, and digital age.

Selected publications

  • “The Judeo-Christian and Abrahamic Traditions in American Public Life,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion in America (Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • “Reinscribing Religious Authenticity: Religion, Secularism, and the Perspectival Character of Intellectual History,” in Andrew Hartman and Raymond Haberski, Jr., eds., American Labyrinth: Intellectual History for Complicated Times (Cornell University Press, 2018)
  • “‘A Bad Kind of Magic’: The Niebuhr Brothers on ‘Utilitarian Christianity’ and Democracy’s Defense,” Harvard Theological Review 107, no. 1 (January 2014)
  • “The Cold War Romance of Religious Authenticity: Will Herberg, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Rise of the New Right,” Journal of American History 99, no. 4 (March 2013)
  • “Demarcating Democracy: Liberal Catholics, Protestants, and the Discourse of Secularism,” in Leigh Schmidt and Sally Promey, eds., American Religious Liberalism (Indiana University Press, 2012)


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