Marsden, George (Mish) 1939-
Marsden, George (Mish) 1939-
MARSDEN, George (Mish) 1939-
PERSONAL: Born February 25, 1939, in Harrisburg, PA; son of Robert Samuel (a clergyman) and Bertha (a teacher; maiden name, Mish) Marsden; married Lucie Commeret, June 30, 1969; children: Gregory, Brynn. Education: Haverford College, B.A. (with honors), 1959; Yale University, M.A., 1961, Ph.D., 1965; Westminster Theological Seminary, B.D., 1963. Politics: Independent. Religion: Christian Reformed.
CAREER: Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant instructor, 1964-65; Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, instructor, 1965-66, assistant professor, 1966-70, associate professor, 1970-73, professor of history, 1974—; writer. Visiting professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1976-77.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, American Society of Church History, Presbyterian Historical Society, Conference on Faith and History.
AWARDS, HONORS: Younger humanist fellowship from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1971-72; Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship fellowship, 1979-80, research fellowship, 1982-83; Fundamentalism and American Culture was named book of the year, Eternity magazine, 1981.
The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1970.
(Editor, with Frank Roberts) A Christian View of History?, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1975.
(Editor, with Mark A. Noll and others) Eerdmans Handbook to Christianity in America, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983.
(With Mark A. Noll and Nathan O. Hatch) The Search for Christian America, Crossway Books (Wheaton, IL), 1983, expanded edition, Helmers & Howard (Colorado Springs, CO), 1989.
(Editor) Evangelicalism and Modern America, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1984.
Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1987.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Fundamentals: A Testimony to Truth, Garland (New York, NY), 1988.
Religion and American Culture, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1990, 2nd edition, Harcourt (Ft. Worth, TX), 2001.
Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1991.
(Editor, with Bradley J. Longfield) The Secularization of the Academy, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2003.
Contributor to books, including The Evangelicals, edited by David Wells and John Woodbridge, Abingdon (Nashville, TN), 1975; John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World, edited by W. Stanford Reid, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI); The Bible in America, edited by Mark A. Noll and Nathan O. Hatch, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982; The Wars of America: Christian Views, edited by Ronald A. Wells, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1982; Religion and America: Spirituality in a Secular Age, edited by Mary Douglas and Steven M. Tipton, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1983; Reformed Faith and Politics, edited by Ronald Stone, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1983; Science and Creationism, edited by Ashley Montagu, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1983; Faith and Rationality, edited by Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1984; History and Historical Understanding, edited by C. T. McIntire and R. A. Wells, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1984; and The Idea of a University, by John Henry Newman and edited by Frank M. Turner, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1996. Also contributor to several church periodicals. Associate editor, Christian Scholar's Review, 1970-77; editor, Reformed Journal, 1980—.
SIDELIGHTS: In his work Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, George Marsden, according to Commentary critic Peter Skerry, "traces the roots of fundamentalism in the evangelical fervor that swept antebellum America, what has come to be known as the Second Great Awakening. From towns along the Erie Canal in New York to the farthest reaches of the Western frontier, revivals and camp meetings were everywhere in evidence. This religious fervor gradually spilled over into social reform movements such as abolitionism, temperance, and Sabbatarianism. What these varied efforts had in common was an intense optimism about America and its future." Noting that "belief in science and the progress it fosters was an important part of what [the author] calls the 'evangelical consensus,'" Skerry pointed out that the striking blow of Darwinism caused upheaval in the church "not merely [because] Darwin challenged the biblical version of creation. A much more profound challenge, according to Marsden, was Darwin's method of forming and testing hypotheses. His reliance on the speculative constructs that had been rejected by Baconian science challenged the evangelical consensus at its epistemological core. From within that consensus Darwinism appeared to open up not only science, but American democracy and religion itself, to a radical subjectivism."
Marsden's study ends with the victory of "agnostic cosmopolitan liberals," as Times Literary Supplement writer David Martin put it, in the landmark Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925. Stating that fundamentalism "is just as complex a scene today as [the author] describes in the late nineteenth century," Martin concluded: "One cannot equate fundamentalism, evangelicalism and the moral majority. One cannot assure that a right-wing stance is inevitable, since in other parts of the world the same phenomenon is politically volatile. One cannot guess how far practices like faith healing and exorcism will continue to penetrate even the liberal mainstream. It is certain only that here we have a cautionary tale, important both for the defective social theory of liberals, and their continued survival. They should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Dr. Marsden's book."
Marsden followed up this work with a study of a particular institution to illustrate the conflicts within fundamentalism in the wake of the large-scale secularization of society. In Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Marsden traces the origin and early development of this prestigious, conservative Protestant seminary, using it to explore a break that happened within the fundamentalist movement he described earlier. As Virginia Lieson Brereton explained in the History of Education Quarterly, "Marsden thinks of the present volume as a sequel to his already-classic Fundamentalism and American Culture, and, indeed, the wisest approach would be to read the earlier volume before turning to this one." As a case study, the Fuller Seminary illustrates the alternative to the anti-intellectualism that infected fundamentalism especially in the wake of the Scopes Trial. Founded in 1947 by radio evangelist Charles E. Fuller, the seminary brought together the best and the brightest intellectuals from the evangelical world and tasked them with producing works that would bring credit to evangelicalism in the scholarly world while turning out students who would be zealous missionaries. It was a tough assignment, and Marsden describes the strains that led to a surprising number of nervous breakdowns among the faculty, and ultimately an attempt to reform fundamentalism itself that brought forth a new religious grouping, the neo-evangelicals. It is a complex story with a number of implications, reaching well beyond the walls of Fuller itself. According to American Historical Review contributor David Edwin Harrell, Marsden's "history of Fuller Theological Seminary is a fine example of how to weave the history of an institution into its intellectual and cultural milieu."
In a number of books, Marsden has looked at the wider world of academia, where the intellectual assumptions of the Fuller Theological Seminary have been marginalized, and sometimes eliminated. In The Secularization of the Academy, Marsden and coeditor Bradley J. Longfield bring together the work of a number of scholars who "examine (in eleven essays) the erosion and elimination of a Christian ethos in higher education between the nineteenth century and the present. In telling this rather familiar story, they emphasize that academic modernists saw no conflict between their curricular reforms and the promotion of broad Christian values in the university," noted Journal of Social History contributor Glenn Altschuler. The essays range widely, covering Canadian and British universities, Catholic and Presbyterian schools, and the academic ministry of Daniel Colt Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University.
In The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, Marsden "demonstrates that secularization was the unintended consequence of an effort in the nineteenth century to limit the influence of denominations on higher education," explained Altschuler in a New England Quarterly assessment. Although secularization and the triumph of the scientific method clearly played a role in desacralizing America's great research universities, as Marsden acknowledges, these abstract forces are not his primary focus. "Instead, the leading characters are the educators who built and governed these universities—virtually all of whom were earnest liberal Protestants. These Christians, Marsden argues, gained the world for the American university but lost its soul in the process," wrote reviewers Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass in the Christian Century. Committed to the Social Gospel and to reaching beyond sectarian differences to embrace the wider world, these men gradually laid the groundwork for the complete secularization of the most prestigious American universities, in Marsden's view. "This is probably the most important work on the history of American higher education since Laurence Veysey's Emergence of the American University (1965)," stated Daniel Howe in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. "It displays a wide range of learning: the history of science, philosophy, theology and biblical criticism are all called upon as required. It is a wise and perceptive book, with much to offer both the specialist and the general reader. While long and fact-filled, it can be read quickly because the author's prose is lucid and engaging." In a "concluding, unscientific postscript" Marsden goes on to ask why universities, which seek to embrace virtually every perspective and cultural outlook, often summarily exclude evangelical Christian views and scholars and to offer possible solutions.
In The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, Marsden explores this question more fully. If gender and ethnic diversity can add to the scholarly enterprise, why not religious diversity, he wonders. "In a lucid, thoughtful book even his toughest critics will find compelling," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it, Marsden discusses the exclusion of the Christian perspective from academia and suggests ways in which universities can correct this imbalance and bring frankly religious outlooks into the discussion of great moral issues, such as the tension between pluralism and the desire to assert fundamental values. At the same time, he "notes how ironic it is that Christians are rigorously judged against the standard of rational objectivity at a time when the very possibility of rational objectivity—as an inheritance of the Enlightenment—is under widespread attack," wrote Christian Century reviewer Glann Tinder.
In something of a departure, Marsden next produced a biography, but one that explored his familiar themes of evangelical intellectualism and its place in a country built on Enlightenment values. In Jonathan Edwards: A Life, he tells the story of the man behind the "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon. Alternately seen as a theological dinosaur clinging to a dying Calvinism or a solitary genius whose individualistic Christianity set the stage for the American Revolution, Jonathan Edwards remains one of the few American evangelicals widely acknowledged as a first-rate intellectual. Straddling the early years of the eighteenth century, from 1703 to 1758, Edwards was a leading voice in the Great Awakening, but also a recognized scholar in the early Enlightenment who gained an appointment as Princeton's first president shortly before his death. "By the sheer weight of facts, Marsden forces us to regard Edwards as 'simultaneously a strict conservative and an innovator,' as a man of the eighteenth century who nevertheless saw many of its blind spots, and as an evangelical who publicized the Awakening, even tried to institutionalize it, yet feared its consequences," concluded First Things contributor George McKenna. At the same time, America contributor John Fitzgibbons found that "Jonathan Edwards reads much like a novel, filled with local color and cultural context as well as the internal drives and loves and blind spots of its subject."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, November 3, 2003, John Fitzgibbons, "A Towering Clergyman," p. 25.
American Historical Review, June, 1989, David Ediwn Harrell, review of Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, pp. 900-901.
Catholic Historical Review, October, 2003, John Bombaro, review of Jonathan Edwards: A Life, p. 812.
Choice, September, 1990, A. Porterfield, review of Religion and American Culture; March, 1992, L. H. Hoyle, review of Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism; November, 1992, L. S. Zwerling, review of The Secularization of the Academy; October, 1994, D. S. Webster, review of The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief; November, 2003, R. Ward, review of Jonathan Edwards.
Christian Century, March 15, 1995, Mark Schwein and Dorothy Bass, review of The Soul of the American University, p. 292; July 2, 1997, Glann Tinder, review of The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, pp. 626-669; October 4, 2003, Allen Guelzo, "America's Theologian: Piety and Intellect," p. 30.
Christian History, November, 2001, "Christian History Today: Combining Christian Convictions and Scholarly Conventions, Two Historians Create Very Different Blends," p. 50.
Christianity Today, August 15, 1994, Roger Lundin, review of The Soul of the American University, pp. 33-36.
Commentary, May, 1982, Peter Skerry, review of Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism.
First Things, October, 2003, George McKenna, "A Conservative Innovator," pp. 61-66.
History of Education Quarterly, autumn, 1989, Virginia Lieson Brereton, review of Reforming Fundamentalism, pp. 484-486.
Journal of American History, June, 1993, Louise Stevenson, review of The Secularization of the Academy, pp. 282-283.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, April, 1996, Daniel Howe, review of The Soul of the American University, p. 398.
New England Quarterly, June, 1995, Glenn Altschuler, "Schools with Soul," pp. 300-308.
New Republic, August 11, 2003, Elisa New, "The Virtuecrat," p. 25.
New York Times Book Review, April 17, 1997, J. P. Parland, review of The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, p. 17; July 6, 2003, Gary Wills, "Soul on Fire," p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, January 13, 1997, review of The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, p. 69; March 31, 2003, Henry Carrigan, "Reawakening Jonathan Edwards: Talks with George Marsden," p. 60.
Review of Social History, fall, 1994, Glenn Altschuler, review of The Secularization of the Academy, pp. 147-153.
Reviews in American History, March, 1995, Leo Ribuffo, review of The Soul of the American University, p. 170.
Science, July 22, 1994, J. David Hoeveler, review of The Soul of the American University, p. 549.
Times Literary Supplement, December 18, 1981, David Martin, review of Fundamentalism and American Culture; July 18, 2003, Steven R. Holmes, "More Than Hellfire."*