A child of the plains, born in West Point, Nebraska and raised in Iowa and Nebraska, and a son of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) who was educated at Concordia College and Seminary, Martin Marty received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1956, and served as a Lutheran pastor from 1952 to 1967 in the suburbs of Chicago. From 1963 to 1998 he taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School, eventually holding an endowed chair (the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professorship). Marty's over 130 doctoral advisees at the University of Chicago include M. Craig Barnes, James R. Lewis, Jeffrey Kaplan, Jonathan M. Butler, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Vincent Harding, as well as Shimer College president Susan Henking.
Marty served as president of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and the American Catholic Historical Association. He was the founding president and later the George B. Caldwell Scholar-in-Residence at the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith, and Ethics. He has served on two U. S. presidential commissions and was director of both the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Public Religion Project at the University of Chicago (sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts). He has served at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota since 1988 as Regent, Board Chair, Interim President in late 2000, and now[date missing] as Senior Regent.
Marty retired after his seventieth birthday. He holds emeritus status at the University of Chicago; he additionally served as Robert W. Woodruff Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Emory University 2003-2004. His first wife, Elsa, died. He is now married to Harriet. He has seven children (including two who joined the family as foster children), among whom are Minnesota State Senator John Marty and the Rev. Peter Marty, who hosted the ELCA radio ministry Grace Matters from 2005 to 2009, and is now publisher of The Christian Century magazine and senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.
The Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion is named for Marty, and has been awarded annually since 1996.
Marty has received numerous honors, including the National Humanities Medal, the Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the University of Chicago Alumni Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal of the Association of Theological Schools, the Order of Lincoln Medallion (Illinois' top honor), and 80 honorary doctorates. In 1991, Marty was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) degree from Whittier College.
Named in his honor, the [Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religionhttps://divinity.uchicago.edu/martin-marty-center Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion] is the University of Chicago Divinity School's institute for interdisciplinary research in all fields of the academic study of religion. He is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and of the American Philosophical Society and is the Mohandas M. K. Gandhi Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
Marty published an authored book and an edited book for every year he was a full-time professor. He maintained that authorial pace for the first decade of his retirement, slowing only in the second. His dozens of published books include Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (1970), for which he won the National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion; the encyclopedic five-volume Fundamentalism Project, co-edited with historian R. Scott Appleby, formerly his dissertation advisee; and the biography Martin Luther (2004). He has been a columnist and senior editor for The Christian Century magazine since 1956, edited the biweekly "Context" newsletter from 1969 until 2010, and writes a weekly column distributed electronically as "Sightings" by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In addition, he has authored over 5,000 articles and many more incidental pieces, encyclopedia entries, forewords, and the like.
Modern American Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.