Skip to Content

Skip to Content

Home > About > Education, Contest and Change

Education, Contest and Change

Education, Contest, and Change

The Vanderbilt University Divinity School is one of only six graduate schools of religion in the United States without a denominational affiliation that service primarily mainline Protestantism (University of Chicago Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Yale Divinity School and Howard University School of Divinity are the others). As such, its history provides a distinct vantage point for viewing what has occurred in theological education since the latter part of the nineteenth century

In this book, the contributors explore the school's history in terms of four main themes:

  • Engagement with southern culture, present from the beginnings of the university but taking on special significance in the mid-twentieth century around the issue of race;
  • The transition from an institution of the church (Methodist) to an independent and interdenominational school with a liberal Protestant orientation;
  • The development of the modern research university, evident in the establishment of a graduate program in religion in addition to its program for the profession of ministry;
  • From the 1950s, a growing concern with diversity and inclusivity, in keeping with national and international issues and developments both religious and cultural, which has broadened the school's sense of ecumenism and deepened its commitments to social justice.

Conflict has played an important part in shaping the history of the Vanderbilt Divinity School, from struggles over initial visions to questions of financial support and institutional control, from local debates over academic freedom to national issues of social justice. Especially noteworthy are the transformations the school has undergone since 1960: the "James Lawson affair," where most of the divinity school faculty resigned over the expulsion of an African American graduate student who was organizing local lunch counter sit-ins; the impact of social change on the school since the late 1960s; and the contributions of women and African Americans, including their appointment to the faculty.

Dale A. Johnson is professor emeritus of church history in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University and author of The Changing Shape of English Nonconformity, 1825-1925.