Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bethany College and Anti-Intellectualism

Bethany College was  started in 1840 when the revivalist Alexander Campbell gained a charter from the state of Virginia. It still exists as one of America's leading colleges. And while Wikipedia lists 25 different fields of study that the university offers, you won't find theology among them. If you go to Bethany's own website and look at their religious studies major or their explanation of the major, you won't find any mention of theology.

I came across the explanation for this curious fact today when reading Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity. Hatch recounts how “In 1840, [Alexander] Campbell gained a charter for Bethany College from the state of Virginia with the curious provision that no professorship of theology should ever be established.”

This unusual provision was, in fact, fruit of the explicitly anti-intellectual posturing that was so characteristic of the Second Great Awakening - a posture I have already touched upon in my earlier post To The Dogs With the Head. In echoing Tertullian's est quia impossible and Anselm's credo ut intelligam (though it is unlikely that any of the Awakening's revivalists even heard of Tertullian or Anselm), they set the trajectory for the type of 20th century anti-intellectualism I wrote about in my earlier post The Double-Truth Universe.

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