Jonathan Rieder

Professor of Sociology


American Studies, Human Rights, Sociology


332C Milbank Hall
Fall 2020 hours to come or by appointment


Jonathan Rieder joined the faculty of Barnard College in 1990 and chaired the department from 1990 through 2003. He previously taught at Yale University and Swarthmore College. In addition to his teaching in the Sociology Department, Professor Rieder is affiliated with Barnard's programs in American Studies, Jewish Studies, and Human Rights Studies. A member of the graduate faculty of Columbia University’s Sociology Department, he is also affiliated with the Columbia American Studies Department. Rieder teaches courses on contemporary American culture and politics;  unity and division in the United States;  the sociology of culture; and race, ethnicity,  and American pluralism. He has regularly taught "The Shapes and Shadows of Identity" for Barnard's First-Year Seminar Program. His latest course is "From Rhythm and Blues to Soul and Rock: The Sociology of Crossover Culture."

Rieder is the author of Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation (Bloomsbury, 2013). He is also the author of The Word of the Lord Is upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism. He edited The Fractious Nation: Unity and Division in Contemporary American Life. Between 1995 and 2001, He was a co-founding editor of CommonQuest:The Magazine of Black- Jewish Relations. He has been a regular commentator on TV and radio, a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, and a contributing editor for The New Republic. He has been a Member and a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, and been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton, The Wilson Center, the National Humanities Center, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. He is currently working on a book about the rise of contemporary crossover culture and the transition of rhythm and blues into soul music.

  • BA, Harvard University
PhD, Yale University

  • Sociology of Culture
  • Culture and Politics in the United States
  • Racial, Religious
  • Ethnic Conflict and American Pluralism

Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation (Bloomsbury, 2013).

King May Have Dreamed,” The Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2013.

Songs of the Slaves,” The New Yorker, August, 23, 2013.

The Prophet Unbound,” The Washington Post, April 23, 2013.

"Too Black or Not Black Enough?: Final Thoughts on Beer Summits and Postracial Paradoxes,The Huffington Post.

"'I'm Going to Be a Negro Tonight': Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama and Postracial Paradoxes,"  The Michigan Review, Summer, 2009.

The Word of the Lord is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. (The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2008).

In The News

Sociology professor comments on King's legacy for The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Charlie Rose Show, and more.

August 26, 2013

Sociology professor answers questions about his new book, Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation

April 16, 2013

 "I've been interested in issues of race since junior high school when my progressive Quaker school let me skip a chemistry test to picket for civil rights in Philadelphia," recalls Jonathan Rieder, professor of sociology at Barnard. Rieder's youthful passion and forward-thinking education formed the basis for his life's work, and decades later, he is now a leading author and academic, specializing in the study of race and class in America. Rieder has researched and written about a wide range of issues in this field for the past three decades, from white backlash in working class neighborhoods to conflicts in immigrant communities.

October 16, 2009