Robert Baird: A Defense of Religion-Affiliated Universities—With a Word of Caution | Columnists

A bit of history: If we were to poll and ask people to name the most outstanding universities in this country, arguably Harvard, Yale, and Princeton would top the list or at least be among everyone’s top 10.

Harvard, America’s first university, was founded in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636, a hundred years before Lexington and Concord, the “shots heard around the world” that sparked the Revolutionary War. Harvard was established by the Congregational Church primarily to train ministers. The university is named after “its first benefactor, the Puritan clergyman John Harvard”.

Yale “was originally created [by Congregationalists in 1701] to train ministers in theology and sacred languages.

Princeton was founded in 1746 by the Presbyterians also for the purpose, first of all, of training ministers.

Other now secular or non-sectarian universities also had religious beginnings: the University of Chicago and Brown University were originally Baptist.

And while Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Brown are now nonsectarian or secular, the first four have retained schools of theology, and Brown has a religious studies department.

So let’s start by saluting the role of religion in American higher education, appreciating those religious leaders who saw the importance of an educated clergy and, as a result, founded the first institutions of higher learning in this country.

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