In Bonhoeffer’s company: Biographer Charles Marsh

In his book Strange Glory, Charles Marsh offers a fresh account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life based on previously unknown documents. Marsh is professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the school’s Project on Lived Theology. Besides writing an earlier book on Bonhoeffer, Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1994), he is the author of God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (1997); a memoir, The Last Days: A Son’s Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South (2001); and The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (2005).

You were researching materials related to Bonhoeffer’s experience in America in the 1930s when your project developed into a full-scale biography. What lured you into that larger work?

Poring over Bonhoeffer’s papers in the Staatsbibliotek in Berlin brought surprises on a daily basis. It was like watching a fascinating slide show, with registration papers for a new Audi convertible, a bank slip from the joint account he shared with Eberhard Bethge, files on race relations in the United States, inventories of his wardrobe and library, photos of Bonhoeffer and Bethge goofing around and making funny faces on the Baltic seaboard, postcards from Texas, a brief correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi.