Published Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 1, 1996

The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, by George M. Marsden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. xii + 462 pp. $35.

The secularization of the College is no violation of its motto, ‘Christo et Ecclesiae.’ For, as I interpret those sacred ideas, the cause of Christ and the Church is advanced by whatever liberalizes and enriches and enlarges the mind.

—Frederic Henry Hedge Harvard Divinity School, 1866

In discussing the queen of the sciences, John Henry Newman noted that unless one limits God to the role of “constitutional monarch” in the kingdom of nature, theology must remain at the center of university studies, for without theology as a balance, all other forms of scientific inquiry become ends unto themselves. Thus in 1852 he foresaw how Western universities established for the teaching of both human knowledge and divine wisdom might instead become godless hydras of research specialties.

George Marsden’s latest work examines how Newman’s fears were realized in this nation’s most prestigious institutions of learning. Marsden’s purpose is not to turn back the clock on the modern campus, but to investigate why American higher education underwent such a major transformation not with a bang but a whimper. Detached but lucid, his book is an episodic tapestry which jumps from school to school over three centuries to show how modern intellectual movements changed America’s colleges from lettered societies of a loosely Christian culture into secular technocracies of an industrial state. Blinded by millennialism, college presidents and overseers confused the progress of scientific knowledge with the advancement of the kingdom of God, and thereby set American higher education on a secular path. The search for moral truth became tertiary to research and fundraising.

This is a preview. Read the full article here.