From Christian Gentleman to Bewildered Seeker: The Transformation of American Higher Education

In this carefully documented essay, Russell K. Nieli outlines the major transformation in American higher education that began at the end of the nineteenth century. Today’s research- and vocation-driven private universities began as Christian institutions founded by zealous evangelizers, while public colleges embraced a watered-down version of the earnest and forward-thinking Protestant gentleman’s worldview, which saw no conflict between theological and secular knowledge. Science and religion remained friendly until the advent of the industrial revolution brought the model of the German research university to the attention of American academic reformers. Unity of knowledge was eventually supplanted by a secular, elective system. While the great “multiversity” had arrived, critics mourned the loss of educational coherence and abandonment of the civilizing mission to which moral and classical training were essential.
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