Excerpt from Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas (Coming Soon in Paperback)

Stanley Hauerwas ©Duke University Photography by Jim Wallace
Stanley Hauerwas
©Duke University Photography by Jim Wallace

Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University and one of America’s best known theologians. In the following excerpts from his memoir Hannah’s Child (coming soon in paperback; available for preorder now), he explores a little of what it means to be “Stanley Hauerwas.”

* * *

I did not intend to be “Stanley Hauerwas.” I am aware, however, that there is someone out there who bears that name. Stanley Hauerwas is allegedly famous. How can a theologian, particularly in our secular age, be famous? If theologians become famous in times like ours, surely they must have betrayed their calling. After all, theology is a discipline whose subject should always put in doubt the very idea that those who practice it know what they are doing. How can anyone who works in such a discipline become famous?

Nonetheless, in 2001 Time magazine named me the “best theologian in America.” It is true that when David Reid, at the time the publicist for Duke Divinity School, came to tell me that I was to be so named my first response was, “‘Best’ is not a theological category.” My response was not an attempt to be humble. I do not think you can try to be humble. I was simply responding to the absurdity of it all.

. . .

My mother and father had married “late.” My mother desperately wanted children. She had a child that was stillborn — something I learned when I was looking through her “effects” after she had died. It was then that I discovered my original birth certificate, which indicated the previous birth. But my indomitable mother was not deterred by the loss of a child. She had heard the story of Hannah praying to God to give her a son, whom she would dedicate to God. Hannah’s prayer was answered, and she named her son Samuel. My mother prayed a similar prayer. I am the result. But I was named Stanley because the week before I was born my mother and father saw a movie — Stanley and Livingstone.

It was perfectly appropriate for my mother to pray Hannah’s prayer — but did she have to tell me that she had done so? I could not have been more than six, but I vividly remember my mother telling me that I was destined to be one of God’s dedicated. We were sitting on the porch of our small house trying to cool off at the end of a hot summer day. I am not sure what possessed Mother to unload her story on me at that time, but she did. My fate was set — I would not be if she had not prayed that prayer. At the time, God knows what I made of knowing that I was the result of my mother’s prayer. However, I am quite sure, strange servant of God though I may be, that whatever it means to be Stanley Hauerwas is the result of that prayer. Moreover, given the way I have learned to think, that is the way it should be.

Hannah's Child
Hannah’s Child
(Click to order.)

Was I not robbed of my autonomy by my mother’s prayer? Probably. But if so, I can only thank God. Autonomy, given my energy, probably would have meant going into business and making money. There is nothing wrong with making money, but it was just not in my family’s habits to know how to do that. All we knew how to do was work, and we usually liked the work we did. As it turns out, I certainly like the work Mother’s prayer gave me.

Mother told me only that Hannah had Samuel because she had promised to dedicate her son to God. I do not know if Mother knew that Samuel was to be a Nazirite or that he would be the agent of God’s judgment against the house of Eli. On the Sunday evening when I dedicated myself to the Lord, I certainly did not think that I was assuming a prophetic role, and I am by no means a Nazirite: I have drunk my share of intoxicants, and I am bald. Some might think, however, given the way things have worked out, that I have played a Samuel-like role and challenged the religious establishment of the day. It is true that I have tried, with no more success than Samuel, to warn Christians that having a king is not the best idea in the world, at least if you think a king can make you safe.

But I have never tried to be Samuel. I did not even know the story of Samuel before I went to seminary. I certainly have not tried to be “prophetic,” as I am sometimes described by others. Toward the end of his life, Samuel asked the people he had led to testify against him if he had defrauded or oppressed anyone, or taken a bribe. They responded that Samuel had not defrauded or oppressed anyone, nor taken anything “from the hand of anyone.” If I have any similarity to Samuel, I hope people might cast it in terms like these.

Click to order the paperback edition of Hannah’s Child:  A Theologian’s Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas.