History 578 Lecture # 4
Intellectual thought before the civil war
century America, who were considered to be the nations intellectuals?
Most philosophical thought in the decades before the Civil War was practiced by theologians,
scientists, and splinter amateur groups.
These groups begin to converge on the academic scene at Harvard University in the 1860’s, and at this
point, theology, philosophy, science – disciplines that were often practiced by nonprofessionals –
began to take on the academic nature they have today.
Of course, the primary debate in the academic setting was what to do with Darwin. A need to defend
orthodox theology surfaced as Unitarians, Calvinists and theistic scientists came together, seeking to
salvage legitimate religious belief in the light of Darwin’s claims.
The modern American university emerged after the Civil War.
Charles Eliot became president of Harvard in 1869 and adapted the program to include a liberal
arts approach that demanded a core of learning.
Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876, with the express purpose of providing specialized,
graduate instruction on the model of the German seminar.
Other elite schools followed: Stanford and U of Chicago were founded. Yale, Princeton,
Columbia, Michigan, Wisconsin joined Harvard and Johns Hopkins in developing new forms of
Before this time, education in America was based on the British model that stressed character
The German approach of advanced scholarship became increasingly attractive, and it changed the
intellectual environment for Christianity in America.
The churches were being displaced as the centers of intellectual thought.
Sociologist Edward Shils has suggested: “at a time of faltering theological conviction the universities
were able to become, in a sense, the heirs of the churches.”
Science in the Universities
Andrew Dickinson White, one of the founders of Cornell University in 1865, promised that the new
institution would “afford an asylum for Science – where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, where it
shall not be the main purpose of the Faculty to stretch or cut sciences to fit ‘Revealed Religion.’”
In 1895, White wrote a book,
A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
which he argued that religion in America had stymied the advance of science.