Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education

Sloan, Douglas. Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.

Douglas Sloan examines the attempt and failure of one group of twentieth-century Protestants to revitalize the bond between Christianity and the modern, secular, scientific academy. Following World War I, the academy focused primarily on knowledge that was scientifically derived. In reaction, a multifaceted effort by mainline Protestants during the 1930s sought to reinvigorate what had once been a substantive relationship between Christianity and the university. Through publications and conferences, student movements and scholarly associations, foundations, councils, and institutions, these Protestants attempted to make religious truths intellectually accessible and relevant to the modern world. Several mainline Protestant theologians, like H. Richard Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich, sought to create a new epistemology that would re-establish the place of religious truths. But, according to Sloan, they failed because they “pulled back from affirming unambiguously the real possibility of God and of the spiritual world.” As a result, the Protestant intellectual project collapsed by the end of the 1960s. Student movements, faculty associations and journals promoting Protestantism’s role in higher education dwindled. This signaled for Sloan the end of the mainline Protestantism’s central engagement with American higher education. (KH)