COMFORT, E. NICHOLAS (1884-1956)
The Reverend E. Nicholas Comfort, founder of the Oklahoma School of Religion, was a leading southwestern proponent of the Social Gospel. He was born in Brookston, Texas, on May 1, 1884. Overcoming an impoverished youth in eastern Texas and western Oklahoma, Comfort was educated at McCormick Theological Seminary, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Union Theological Seminary. In 1924 he returned to Oklahoma to become pastor for Presbyterian students at the state's flagship university in Norman.
Determined to overcome sectarianism and fundamentalism, Comfort established the Oklahoma School of Religion in 1927. During the two decades of its existence, the School of Religion (1927-48) strove to provide interdenominational instruction. In the process, the school, along with Dean Comfort as its director, proved enormously controversial. Comfort propounded the message of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, while condemning militarism, racism, and economic inequities. As a consequence, both he and the School of Religion experienced ridicule from less ecumenically inclined ministers, self-proclaimed patriots, and right-wing politicians. Investigative committees examined the operations of Comfort and his school, initially resulting in a firestorm of protest from supporters across the state. The emergence of the cold war resulted in an even less hospitable climate, and the School of Religion was forced to close its doors in 1948. By that point, Comfort was preaching as an itinerant minister and building a new, small house on the outskirts of Norman. After suffering two strokes, Comfort and his wife, Esther, moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to be close to one of their three children and the Mayo Clinic. He died there on February 27, 1956.
Robert C. Cottrell California State University, Chico
Cottrell, Robert C. The Social Gospel of E. Nicholas Comfort. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
Cottrell, Robert C. "The Social Gospel of Nicholas Comfort." Chronicles of Oklahoma 61 (1983–84): 386–409.