Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education

Adam Laats. Oxford Univ., $29.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-19-066562-3
In this fastidiously researched but biased study, Laats, professor of history at Binghamton University, describes the development of fundamentalist higher education since the 1920s as an attempt to modernize evangelical training schools in response to secular education. Laats links this new brand of higher education to the shared goal throughout fundamentalist communities of providing a competitive education in an environment with strict standards for student conduct and an academic curriculum that wouldn’t contradict beliefs in biblical inerrancy. He explores the governing philosophies at various schools (particularly the racist policies at Bob Jones University, where black students weren’t admitted until 1970 and interracial dating was prohibited until 2000) before turning the discussion to the cults of personality that have developed around school founders and leaders. The book concentrates mainly on Bob Jones (and his heirs) and Clifton Fowler at the Denver Bible Institute, both of whom conducted staff purges and placed personal loyalty above educational excellence. Laats’s other large concern is the schism between mainstream evangelicals and the fundamentalists who objected to their “big tent” policies. Although Laats concedes that much of fundamentalist orthodoxy is irreconcilable with academic standards of research, he minimizes the importance of the teaching of evolutionary science as a driving force behind the rise of fundamentalist institutions, and glosses over disputes about geologic time alternatives. Delving into these issues may not be necessary for specialists, but general readers will be frustrated by the lack of broader context in an otherwise enlightening book. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/26/2018
Release date: 03/01/2018
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