Praying Alive

The University has faced the perennial tension of being perceived as both God-less and evangelical.

Just days before this spring's Undergraduate Council election, anonymous leaflets were distributed on Harvard's campus accusing presidential candidate T. Christopher King '01 of trying to evangelize "non-believing students."

King, a religious student and an active member of Harvard's Christian community, ultimately polled second in the election. He subsequently alleged in The Orlando Sentinel that his loss in the election was caused by the "sophisticated slander" used against him.

"People knew how to put words together to trigger certain fears," King said.


Christian and secular leaders alike say the attitudes displayed during the election are an exception to the Harvard community's normally tolerant stance on religion.

They also agree that Harvard is seeing a religious revival 10 years in the making that has brought with it acceptance of previous untolerated groups, but has also raised new concerns about how sincere such tolerance really is.


This is a new variety of an old question for Harvard, which has struggled for over a century to define the role that religion would play on its campus, and in the process endured criticism for both aggressive Unitarianism and "God-less" secularism.


While Harvard had given up any official religious affiliation by 1900, the community was still predominantly composed of churchgoing Protestants at the turn of the century.

Though very few non-Christian religions were represented, the campus did have an increasingly large Jewish population, and anti-Semitism was pervasive.

In the 1920s, an increase in the number of Jewish students began to alarm then President A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, who reveled in his school's patrician past.

Though Lowell tried to convince the Faculty to tighten admissions policies, in order to make it easier to recognize and perhaps set a quota on Jewish applicants, they eventually refused. While anti-Semitism has gradually declined since that time, the University's religious dilemmas were far from resolved.

Less than 20 years later, President James B. Conant '14 began a term characterized by attempts to reduce religious influence on campus. After a speech in which Conant denounced religious parochial schools, Cambridge's Archbishop blasted the Harvard president's "fascist" views during his Easter morning sermon in 1952.

The devoutly religious President Nathan M. Pusey '28 replaced the staunchly anti-religious Conant in 1953. Pusey came to power with a clear vision for the religious future of the University. Throughout his term, he repeatedly and often unsuccessfully attempted to reintroduce religion to a secularized campus.

According to former Eliot House Master Alan E. Heimert '49, in 1958, Pusey threw his support to the minister of Memorial Church, who disallowed non-Christian marriages to take place in the church.

Pusey wrote a letter to The Crimson in support of the minister's actions.

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