The Independent Sector and the Educational Strategies of Mainstream Protestantism, 1900-1980

Bass, Dorothy C. “The Independent Sector and the Educational Strategies of Mainstream Protestantism, 1900-1980.” In Religion, the Independent Sector, and American Culture. Conrad Cherry and Rowland A. Sherrill, eds. Pp. 51-72. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992.

Dorothy Bass investigates the impact that the modern research university has had on mainstream Protestantism and its educational institutions, and looks at several strategies Protestants have used to rekindle their influence in higher education. The essay compares the values and practices of the 19th century “age of the college” with those of the 20th century’s more modern, secular, and cosmopolitan university ( and “multiversity”). Bass finds that two early 20th century philanthropic foundations—one under Andrew Carnegie and the other under John D. Rockefeller—promoted the expansion of the university’s influence to the general detriment of the denominational colleges. She notes that later in the century, Protestants developed three strategies to regain lost influence: (1) the campus ministry; (2) the introduction of the academic study of religion at the college level; and (3) attempts to raise faculty consciousness about the religious and ethical dimensions of higher education. The closing section of the essay reports that after 1960—during a time when the university’s cultural dominance further weakened religion as a core value and the power of philanthropy to shape religion was less effective than in earlier days—politically active, mainstream campus ministries operated “on the margins of American higher education” even as the academic study of religion grew within university departments.