Religion at Rhodes: Is There a Future in the Past?

Haynes, Stephen. "Religion at Rhodes: Is There a Future in the Past?" Rhodes Magazine 6, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 33-39.

Over the years, Rhodes College has struggled to balance academic excellence with its religious character. In this article, Haynes highlights the tensions that have arisen throughout the history of Rhodes as it has moved in a more secular direction. Prior to 1917, Rhodes (known until 1984 as Southwestern) had been strongly Presbyterian and sectional (i.e. southern). Starting with the presidency of Charles Diehl (1917-1949), the college moved towards a more “nationalistic” orientation, serving the nation as a whole rather than just the old south. This nationalistic orientation led to greater secularization. Diehl oversaw the opening of an engineering school and the implementation of compulsory military drill for male students. More significantly, he closed the divinity school. These moves created controversy among conservative Christian constituents, but Deiehl’s liberal vision ultimately prevailed. By the late 1960s, attendance at daily chapel services was no longer required of students. Today Rhodes stands completely independent of the Presbyterian Church, though it maintains a loose affiliation. Haynes suggests that, as in the past, there will continue to be constituencies who “will always find Rhodes ‘too liberal’ or insufficiently ‘Christian.’” As an account of the historical roots of secularization at one church-related colleges, the article highlights the tensions and internal debates that arise when church-related colleges become more secular over time. (AS)