The Soul of the American University is a classic and much discussed account of the changing roles of Christianity in shaping American higher education, presented here in a newly revised edition to offer insights for a modern era. As late as the World War II era, it was not unusual even for state schools to offer chapel services or for leading universities to refer to themselves as “Christian” institutions. From the 1630s through the 1950s, when Protestantism provided an informal religious establishment, colleges were expected to offer religious and moral guidance. Following reactions in the 1960s against the WASP establishment and concerns for diversity, this specifically religious heritage quickly disappeared and various secular viewpoints predominated. In this updated edition of a landmark volume, George Marsden explores the history of the changing roles of Protestantism in relation to other cultural and intellectual factors shaping American higher education.
Far from a lament for a lost golden age, Marsden offers a penetrating analysis of the changing ways in which Protestantism intersected with collegiate life, intellectual inquiry, and broader cultural developments. He tells the stories of many of the nation’s pace-setting universities at defining moments in their histories. By the late nineteenth-century when modern universities emerged, debates over Darwinism and higher criticism of the Bible were reshaping conceptions of Protestantism; in the twentieth century important concerns regarding diversity and inclusion were leading toward ever-broader conceptions of Christianity; then followed attacks on the traditional WASP establishment which brought dramatic disestablishment of earlier religious privilege. By the late twentieth century, exclusive secular viewpoints had become the gold standard in higher education, while our current era is arguably “post-secular”. The Soul of the American University Revisited deftly examines American higher education as it exists in the twenty-first century.