The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief
Marsden, George M.
Oxford University, 1994
It’s hard to imagine now, but at one time American universities were part of the mainline Protestant establishment. They promoted “a religious-cultural vision. . . . In the 1890s, for instance, almost all state universities still held compulsory chapel services and some required Sunday church attendance as well. State-sponsored chapel services did not become rare until the World War II era. In the meantime, many of the best private universities maintained Christian divinity schools and during the first half of the twentieth century built impressive chapels signaling their respect for their Christian heritages. As late as the 1950s it was not unusual for spokespersons of leading schools to refer to them as ‘Christian’ institutions.”
Marsden reports on William F. Buckley’s reflections on his experience as an undergrad at Yale (1946-1950) published as God and Man at Yale (1951), widely regarded as the launch of the American conservative movement in the latter half of the last century. The controversy over the book was revealing at mid-century. Buckley said the university wasn’t nearly as Christian as its alums and supporters thought. McGeorge Bundy (Yale, 1940) revealed to readers that the problem with Buckley is that “he is an ardent Roman Catholic” whose point of view had been distorted by his Catholicism. Then, remarkably and unthinkably today, Bundy added this: Yale is a Puritan and Protestant institution by its heritage and [Buckley] should have attended Fordham or some similar institution.”