The Sacred and the Secular University

By Jon H. Roberts; James Turner | Go to book overview

Chapter One
RELIGION, SCIENCE, AND HIGHER EDUCATION

HISTORIANS HAVE LONG maintained that a “revolution” occurred within American higher education during the late nineteenth century and that one of the major sources of the revolutionary impulse was science. In the name of reform, colleges and universities became more secular. The Christian faith lost its central place within higher education, and evangelical Protestants were displaced from their role as the major intellectual arbiters of American culture. 1

This scenario contains a good deal of truth. Higher education did become more secular in the late nineteenth century, partly because of a gradual disjunction of scientific loyalties from theological concerns and partly because of a growing tendency to make the ethos of science the foundation of higher education. The mechanics of the process of secularization, however, were considerably more complex than historians have thus far suggested. The conventional account tacitly assumes that science was an independent variable and religion a dependent one. For much of the nineteenth century, however, the status and prestige of science depended to a great extent on its close association with Christian theology. The tendency of scientists to detach themselves publicly, if not always privately, from this association and their ability to create an even more central role for themselves within higher education should not be regarded as givens. Only if we contextualize those processes can we hope to answer a question posed by the historian George Marsden: “How was it that distinctively Christian teaching could be displaced so easily from the central and substantive role that it had held in American higher education for over two centuries and in the universities of Christendom for many centuries before that?” 2

In order to understand how academic science established independence from religious concerns while increasing its status within higher education it is necessary to focus on ideas promoted by the professoriate. For too long the history of higher education has been written from the perspective of college presidents and trustees. This is not always inappropriate. The views of presidents and other officials often exerted enormous influence on the life of the institutions over which they presided. During the late nineteenth century, however, learning became more fragmented, and the task of running a college or university became more complicated. As disciplines and courses of study became increasingly

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The Sacred and the Secular University
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • The Sacred and the Secular University *
  • Introduction 3
  • Part One - The Sciences 17
  • Chapter One - Religion, Science, and Higher Education 19
  • Chapter Two - The Emergence of the Human Sciences 43
  • Chapter Three - Knowledge and Inquiry in the Ascendant 61
  • Part Two - The Humanities 73
  • Chapter Four - The Triumph of the Humanities 75
  • Chapter Five - The Boon and Bane of Specialization 83
  • Chapter Six - Two Ideals of Knowledge 95
  • Chapter Seven - For and against Secularization 107
  • Notes 123
  • Index 177
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