Ministry on the Margin: Protestants and Education

Bass, Dorothy C. “Ministry on the Margin: Protestants and Education.” In Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900-1960. William R. Hutchison, ed. Pp. 48-71. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Dorothy Bass writes “Ministry on the Margin: Protestants and Education” to examine the changes the modern research university of the late 19th and 20th centuries brought to denominational colleges, seminaries and Sunday Schools as well as to the cultural authority Protestantism had traditionally enjoyed in America. She explains the influence that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Rockefeller-supported General Education Board had in promoting the university’s influence in the early decades of the 20th century, actions which caused denominations to “acknowledge the necessity of re-visioning their role in higher education.” The article lists three strategies by which Protestants sought to reclaim lost ground: (1) launching campus ministries at secular institutions; (2) promoting the academic study of religion; and (3) raising faculty consciousness about the importance of religion and values in higher education. Bass also considers the influence secular universities had over the Sunday School, though in the end their authority was not felt as deeply here as it was in the colleges and seminaries. She concludes that, in contrast to the resistance maintained at the local congregational level to the values of the secular university, “higher education was the realm of Protestant establishment cultural activity [that was] most heavily influenced by the dominant ideals of science, professionalism, standardization, and cosmopolitanism.”