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The Sacred and the Secular University
Jon H. Roberts & James Turner
With an introduction by John F. Wilson and a foreword by William G. Bowen and Harold T. Shapiro

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2000
Winner of the Thomas N. Bonner Prize

Hardcover | 2000 | $78.50 | £65.95 | ISBN: 9780691015569
184 pp. | 7 3/4 x 10
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Reviews | Table of Contents

American higher education was transformed between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I. During this period, U.S. colleges underwent fundamental changes--changes that helped to create the modern university we know today. Most significantly, the study of the sciences and the humanities effectively dissolved the Protestant framework of learning by introducing a new secularized curriculum. This secularization has long been recognized as a decisive turning point in the history of American education. Until now, however, there has been remarkably little attention paid to the details of how this transformation came about. Here, at last, Jon Roberts and James Turner identify the forces and explain the events that reformed the college curriculum during this era.

The first section of the book examines how the study of science became detached from theological considerations. Previously, one of the primary pursuits of "natural scientists" was to achieve an understanding of the workings of the divine in earthly events. During the late nineteenth century, however, scientists reduced the scope of their inquiries to subjects that could be isolated, measured, and studied objectively. In pursuit of "scientific truth," they were drawn away from the larger "truths" that they had once sought. On a related path, social scientists began to pursue the study of human society more scientifically, attempting to generalize principles of behavior from empirically observed events.

The second section describes the revolution that occurred in the humanities, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, when the study of humanities was largely the study of Greek and Latin. By 1900, however, the humanities were much more broadly construed, including such previously unstudied subjects as literature, philosophy, history, and art history. The "triumph of the humanities" represented a significant change in attitudes about what constituted academic knowledge and, therefore, what should be a part of the college curriculum.

The Sacred and the Secular University rewrites the history of higher education in the United States. It will interest all readers who are concerned about American universities and about how the content of a "college education" has changed over the course of the last century.

"[Jon Roberts and James Turner's] thoroughly researched and carefully argued presentations invite readers to revisit stereotypical generalizations and to rethink the premises developed in the late nineteenth century that underlie the modern university. At the least, their arguments challenge crude versions of the secularization thesis as applied to higher education."--From the foreword by William G. Bowen and Harold T. Shapiro


"A handy historical overview of an issue that cannot be dismissed as "academic," because it is just too important for understanding who we are and where we are going."--Peter Heinegg, America

"The Sacred and the Secular University is a balanced and well-reasoned contribution to one of the major themes of American higher education. Full of drama, characters, and plot . . . [it] provides insights into what may be the defining movement within American higher education history."--J. Gregory Behle, History of Education Quarterly

"This is a masterful study. In a mere 122 pages of text, it gets to the heart of the secularizing impulse in higher education. This is intellectual history at its finest, written in engaging, accessible . . . and witty prose about matters that are central to intellectual life. For those of us who live in the academy, this is our history. It should be required reading."--Joel A. Carpenter, American Historical Review

"This concise, well-argued book offers an important glimpse into the historical production of knowledge and the changing place of religion in the university."--Amy Johnson Frykholm, Religious Studies Review


"A brief, highly readable survey of the de-Christianization of the American academy that should attract a wide readership among historians of education, science, and religion."--Ronald Numbers, University of Wisconsin

"The issues of religion in public life and the role of religion in colleges are receiving a lot of attention today. This book makes a significant contribution to those discussions."--Wayne Proudfoot, Columbia University

Table of Contents:

CHAPTER ONE Religion, Science, and Higher Education 19
CHAPTER TWO The Emergence of the Human Sciences 43
CHAPTER THREE Knowledge and Inquiry in the Ascendant 61
CHAPTER FOUR The Triumph of the Humanities 75
CHAPTER FIVE The Boon and Bane of Specialization 83
CHAPTER SIX Two Ideals of Knowledge 95
CHAPTER SEVEN For and against Secularization 107

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by William G. Bowen:

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by James Turner:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Harold T. Shapiro:

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by John Frederick Wilson:


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