Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Brightman, Edgar Sheffield

Main content start

September 20, 1884 to February 25, 1953

Five years after Edgar Brightman’s death, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that his mentor from Boston University’s School of Theology gave him “the metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God” (Papers 4:480). Brightman believed that personal experience was at the center of all faith and that “all religion is of, by, and for persons. Religion ascribes a unique value to persons and has a unique interest in their welfare and their salvation” (Brightman, “Religion as Truth,” 73). His scholarship greatly influenced King’s personal philosophy of religion from the time of his early graduate studies at Crozer Theological Seminary.

Brightman was born in Holbrook, Massachusetts, on 20 September 1884, to George Edgar and Mary Sheffield Brightman. He received his STB in 1910 and his PhD in 1912 from Boston University. Brightman taught at Wesleyan University from 1915 to 1919 and then returned to Boston University, where he was appointed to the chair named for his mentor, Borden Parker Bowne, Professor of Philosophy, in 1925.

King became aware of Brightman’s ideas while at Crozer. In a 1949 school paper written for professor George W. Davis, King agreed with Brightman’s idea that any individual can know God. King read Brightman’s A Philosophy of Religion (1940), which led him to reflect on his own spiritual life. King commented: “How I long now for that religious experience which Dr. Brightman so cogently speaks of throughout his book. It seems to be an experience, the lack of which life becomes dull and meaningless” (Papers 1:415–416).

In his application to Boston University in 1950, King stated, “my thinking in philosophical areas has been greatly influenced by some of the faculty members there, particularly Dr. Brightman” (Papers 1:390). After matriculating, King attended Brightman’s Philosophy of Religion class and his Seminar on Philosophy. Brightman died just 16 months after King began his graduate studies at Boston University, and King continued his work in the ideologies of personalism with Brightman’s colleague and former student, L. Harold DeWolf.


Edgar S. Brightman, “Religion as Truth,” in Contemporary American Theology, ed. Vergilius Ferm, 1932.

Courses at Boston University, 1951–1952, 1952–1953, in Papers 2:18.

Introduction, in Papers 1:5156.

Introduction, in Papers 2:5.

King, “A Conception and Impression of Religion Drawn from Dr. Brightman’s Book Entitled A Philosophy of Religion,” 28 March 1951, in Papers 1:407–416.

King, Fragment of Application to Boston University, September 1950–December 1950, in Papers 1:390.

King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 1 September 1958, in Papers 4:473–481.

Walter G. Muelder, “Edgar S. Brightman: Person and Moral Philosopher,” in The Boston Personalist Tradition, ed. Paul Deats and Carol Robb, 1986.