The Soul of the American University
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The Soul of the American University : From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief

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Only a century ago, almost all state universities held compulsory chapel services, and some required Sunday church attendance as well. In fact, state-sponsored chapel services were commonplace until the World War II era, and as late as the 1950s, it was not unusual for leading schools to refer to themselves as "Christian" institutions. Today, the once pervasive influence of religion in the intellectual and cultural life of America's preeminent colleges and universities has all but vanished. In The Soul of the American University, Marsden explores how, and why, these dramatic changes occurred. Far from a lament for a lost golden age when mainline Protestants ruled American education, The Soul of the American University offers a penetrating critique of that era, surveying the role of Protestantism in higher education from the founding of Harvard in the 1630s through the collapse of the WASP establishment in the 1960s. Marsden tells the stories of many of our pace-setting universities at defining moments in their histories, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. He recreates the religious feuds that accompanied Yale's transition from a flagship evangelical college to a university, and the dramatic debate over the place of religion in higher education between Harvard's President Charles Eliot and Princeton's President James McCosh. Marsden's analysis ranges from debates over Darwinism and higher critics of the Bible, to the roles of government and wealthy contributors, the impact of changing student mores, and even the religious functions of college football. He argues persuasively that the values of "liberalism" and "tolerance" that the establishment championed and used to marginalize Christian fundamentalism and Roman Catholicism eventually and perhaps inevitably led to its own disappearance from the educational milieu, as nonsectarian came to mean exclusively secular. While the largely voluntary disestablishment of religion may appear in many respects commendable, Marsden believes that it has nonetheless led to the infringement of the free exercise of religion in most of academic life. In effect, nonbelief has been established as the only valid academic perspective. In a provocative final chapter, Marsden spells out his own prescription for change, arguing that just as the academy has made room for feminist and multicultural perspectives, so should there be room once again for traditional religious viewpoints. A thoughtful blend of historical narrative and searching analysis, The Soul of the American University exemplifies what it advocates: that religious perspectives can provide a legitimate contribution to the highest level of scholarship.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 480 pages
  • 152.4 x 223.52 x 33.02mm | 657.71g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 2 line illustration
  • 0195106504
  • 9780195106503
  • 603,140

Review quote

"Marsden's research [is] compelling and his conclusions sobering....[A] landmark study....An invaluable resource."-Theology Today "Comprehensively researched and lucidly narrated....Mr. Marsden's timely book serves as an indispensable backdrop to a debate raging today. Does America need a common set of values to assure its historical identity?"-The New York Times Book Review "A national debate currently rages about the role of religion in higher education and in public intellectual life more generally. The Soul of the American University is indispensable reading in that debate. Grounded in serious historical research, argued with clear-headed passion, George Marsden's book will raise hackles. More importantly, it raises crucial-and now unavoidable-questions."-James Turner, University of Michigan "This book will depress some and enrage others. Everyone should read it. Marsden demonstrates clearly how far American higher education has moved from its roots in the Protestant establishment. If we are to regain a moral vision for our colleges and universities, we must come to terms with this critical dimension of our past."-Robert Wuthnow, author of Christianity in the 21st Century "Argues that just as the academy has introduced alternative curricula...it should again consider making room for traditional religious viewpoints that can provide a legitimate contribution to the highest level of scholarship."-Library Journal "First-rate historical analysis...a compelling argument for giving God a voice on campus."-Kirkus Reviews "Marsden's point is not to argue for restoration of Christian hegemony in university life, but to show how the disappearance of lively religious debate has left a vacuum at the heart of university life. He argues that a more meaningful commitment to pluralism would produce healthy debate, including views informed by faith....Even [this book's] sharpest critics will find it hard to ignore. Meticulous research, cogent arguments and radical reframing of current debate make this book a valuable contribution to discussion of the university's role in American life."-The Washington Post "An extremely thorough but readable account of one of the most important - but overlooked - developments in U.S. intellectual history."-Richard Elphick, Wesleyan University "Marsden calls for a return of religious perspectives to the university discourse. But he does not glamorize the previously close relationship between religion and education....Marsden makes a strong argument for the academy to come full circle and once again welcome religious perspectives."-The Christian Science Monitor "Marsden, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, writes well and possesses a masterly command of both the historical terrain and the intellectual issues of his subject...The relation between institutional religion and academe is an important subject, and Marsden has written an essential guide to what he rightly calls the 'moral crisis' of the modern university."-New York Newsday "[T]his volume provides a rather comprehensive history of higher education in America, traced through what the author calls 'pace-setting' universities. One great value of the book is the numerous case studies included of such schools as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and state universities in Michigan and California....Marsden's Soul of the American University will go far toward helping readers understand more about the soul of America. The book can be highly recommended."-Southwestern Journal of Theology "Marsden's treatment in the body of his text is eminently fair and judicious. His accessible style and economic yet thorough treatment make it without a peer."-Method & Theory in the Study of Religion "This is superb history, richly detailed, comprehensive, stimulating. For anyone who thinks that religion is an important part of American history, this is an indispensable book deserving the most careful attention."-The Catholic Historical Review "Marsden weaves a fascinating and enlightening story about the role organized Protestant Christianity played in the foundation and nurture of higher education in America, at schools both private and public....Shed[s] valuable insight on the worlds of American education and theology."-Lutheran Quarterly "Well-written, documented and indexed work....[A] valuable resource!"-John Pisarek, Penn State Universityshow more

About George M. Marsden

About the Author: George M. Marsden is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His many books include Fundamentalism and American Culture, The Secularization of the Academy (edited with Bradley J. Longfield), and Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.show more

Rating details

79 ratings
4.17 out of 5 stars
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4 46% (36)
3 13% (10)
2 4% (3)
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