November 29th, 2009 | Uncategorized

Librarian recants doubts on authorship of “Serenity Prayer”

More than a year after Yale librarian Fred Shapiro publicly called into question the origins of the Serenity Prayer, a quotation customarily attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr ’14 GRD ’15, new evidence suggests that Niebuhr was in fact the source of the famous saying, the New York Times reported Friday.

Shapiro is the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, and last summer he published an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine casting doubt on the authorship of the Serenity Prayer, a widely-known adage that says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” Shapiro’s misgivings about the authorship of the quote caused quite a stir in etymological circles. Niebhur’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, told the News last year: “I’m glad that [Shapiro] thinks that it’s important, but I’m puzzled, as were many of the correspondents that wrote to me, by his eagerness to establish that my father didn’t write it. Who does he think wrote it, then?”

But a Duke University researcher named Stephen Goranson has found a 1937 Christian student publication that cites Niebuhr as author of a modified version of the prayer, the New York Times reported. Shapiro said this new piece of evidence increased the likelihood that Niebuhr did in fact write the prayer. And unless persuasive conflicting evidence is produced, Shapiro said, he will attribute the prayer to Niebuhr in the next edition of the Yale Book of Quotations.

The Serenity Prayer is a staple of Alcoholics Anonymous, but the aphorism has also made its way onto countless mugs, plaques and needlepoint canvasses.