ft rating: academic 27.9,
social 31.3, religious 16.4
Established by Congress in 1893, American University quickly became a creature of the Protestant establishment, staffed and funded primarily by Methodists. The Kay Spiritual Life Center houses the campus ministry, and the university chaplain says its “ethic of hospitality” must extend “beyond the borders of organized religion.” Groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ are not encouraged.
American’s faculty is typical of second-tier secular universities, which means a rhetoric of inclusion largely dismissive of faith. As one student tells us: “Most of my professors have, during the course of their classes, made snide comments about Catholicism. I find this remarkable, as all my classes have nothing whatsoever to do with religion.”
Campus life follows the usual pattern of late adolescent hedonism. Students don’t study all that hard, leaving time for parties, hookups, and beer-soaked evenings. Overall, not much to offer a student of faith: neither academically excellent nor supportive of religious commitment.
ft rating: academic 44.0,
social 31.2, religious 9.7
One of the so-called Little Ivies, Amherst offers the typical profile of an elite East Coast liberal-arts college: earnestness approaching piety with respect to social liberalism, combined with the sensible hedonism of upper middle-class youth on their way to professional careers. The image of students launching an initiative to recycle condoms—“sustainable safe sex”—is only slightly fantastical. Needless to say, any historical links to Christianity disappeared long ago.
Recusant life at Amherst is possible. First Things board member Hadley Arkes teaches political science, offering incisive criticisms of the complacent establishment that dominates the school.
ft rating: academic 24.0,
social 48.3, religious 38.9
Founded in 1890 and later renamed in honor of the father of American Methodism, Asbury’s bylaws bind the school to the doctrinal standards of John Wesley and his first successors. But it is independent of any denomination and doesn’t take government funding.
The majority of students are evangelical Protestants and chose Asbury because of their faith. They report that their peers are “strongly religious.” Drinking and dancing are prohibited, under threat of expulsion. Although “there is definitely a minority that goes [over to the nearby campus of] the University of Kentucky to party quite often, the average Asburian doesn’t party or have sex in the typical college manner,” a freshman reports. Another student says that that she has “met one person who admitted to smoking and heard of one person who drinks alcohol on campus.” As for the classroom, a student observes, “Deviation from traditional / orthodox religious views is occasionally discussed, but frowned upon by most students at Asbury.”
For many, the college provides a wholesome environment, serious about Christianity and removed from the drinking and hookup culture. Prospective students should not expect much for faiths outside the evangelical mold.
Ave Maria University
Ave Maria, Florida
ft rating: academic 35.7,
social 28.9, religious 46.3
Founded in 2003 by Tom Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza tycoon, as a faithfully Catholic university, Ave Maria moved from suburban Michigan to its new home in Florida in 2007. Although still small, Ave Maria is intended as an experiment in resurrecting the medieval ideal of the symbiosis of university and town. The modern oratory serves as the center of activity, and future residential developments are planned to be Catholic-friendly, as Monaghan and his associates maintain a monopoly over real estate. Ave Maria made headlines in 2009, and aroused the ire of Planned Parenthood of Collier County, when a grocery store near the university refused to sell prophylactics.
Not surprisingly, Ave Maria students are very religious and selected Ave Maria because of their Catholic identity. Students say faith on campus is vibrant and that the university “provides students with the opportunity to express its faith in all that they do,” with Mass “paramount to campus life.” Students also report that faith is never forced on students, and some come to campus without strong faith, but faith invariably “becomes a part of every student’s life.”
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
ft rating: academic 34.6,
social 35.1, religious 6.3
Still technically affiliated with the Episcopal Church, Bard was ranked by the Princeton Review as the second-most liberal college in the United States—the school that “puts the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal arts.’” Atheism and agnosticism seem the dominant faiths. “The lack of religion on campus possibly reflects a strong presence of my religious tradition” of atheism, writes one recent graduate. While our research suggests that Bard’s faculty (who insist on being called by their first names) tend to keep classes depoliticized, students overwhelmingly agree that teachers do not take religious views seriously. One sophomore declares that “nobody gives a %#@! about a religious perspective in a classroom.”
The undergraduates match the faculty. One student reports an “open and accepting environment” in which “all religions are strongly represented and celebrated,” but with this proviso: “if there are students who are interested in them.” Another student remarks, “We tend to bond over our distaste for irrational beliefs and supernatural explanations for natural occurrences.”
Bard students reportedly study long hours—although one student claims the college draws “remarkably smart students who didn’t like to work hard”—and are only “light partiers.” Still, “alcohol and weed” are widely available, and there is “plenty of sex to be had.” The administration, students report, is “openly supportive of safe sex,” and students can live in dorms with members of the opposite sex.
Although New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton is associated with Bard, theologically trained faculty and the school’s chaplain have no serious impact on campus life except to add occasional ceremonial gloss to campus events and the affirmation of causes.
ft rating: academic 33.0,
social 28.7, religious 13.6
Founded by New England abolitionists just before the Civil War, Bates College tracks the mentality of the East Coast establishment. Not surprisingly, these days the college warmly enthuses in the usual vocabulary of multicultural education as it champions its “inclusive social character and progressive tradition.”
Thomas F. Tracy teaches religion at Bates, and he is capable of providing students with an introduction to classical Christian thought, but those students are not noticeably religious. A leader of the Secular Students Alliance complains that “it is difficult” even “for secular humanists to organize.” An expensive college without much to offer a student hoping to integrate faith and learning.
ft rating: academic 30.2,
social 33.6, religious 33.8
Established in 1845, Baylor set out in recent decades to become a national player. The Baptist university has established new professorships and programs in an effort to exercise national leadership among Christian colleges and universities. A number of faculty make notable contributions to the renewal of Christian intellectual life. In theology: Ralph Wood. In philosophy: Francis Beckwith, C. Stephen Evans, and Scott Moore. In literary studies: David Lyle Jeffrey and Stephen Prickett. Under the leadership of Thomas Hibbs, the Honors College provides a rigorous Great Texts curriculum.
At Baylor, as elsewhere in Texas, students are comfortable combining piety with the usual array of American undergraduate enthusiasms, especially football and fraternities. The campus tends to be religious by default. Some faculty are aggressive secularists as only secularists in Texas can be, but mostly it’s still the place where the Texas Baptist Establishment goes to college.
Still, one recent graduate reports, “Honestly, it’s less fundamentalist than where I go to grad school (UC Berkeley).” There are opportunities for a superb Christian education, but one can just as easily float through four years without one. The new president (see page 62) has much to work with, but work—and hard work—it will be.
Belmont Abbey College
Belmont, North Carolina
ft rating: academic 22.8,
social 34.8, religious 37.6
An exciting school on the rise—but not there yet. Founded in 1876 by the Benedictine monks whose monastery still sits on the campus and who still fund the school, Belmont Abbey recently became famous when it resisted a ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it discriminated against women because it did not include contraceptives in its employee health insurance.
The college is also known, among racing fans, for its nascar management program. Well, why not? Once only local, Belmont Abbey is increasing attracting a national set of Catholic students drawn to the college’s “vibrant community life and the rich Catholic intellectual tradition.” As one sophomore says, “I came here to become a better Catholic. That was my priority even above getting a degree.” Students report that their peers are increasingly faith-oriented: “It gets more religious every year.”
Less than half the student body is actually Catholic, but students agree that campus ministry is very Catholic. Religious life “is there for those who want it, but it is not forced upon you either,” and it’s more manifest “in decisions made by students and the love, fellowship, and community than by outright proselytism.”
Male and female students are not permitted to visit opposite-sex dorms. “There is some partying, but those students who do party are rarely seen in daily and social life.” Belmont Abbey students love their faculty, and they study quite a bit; one student writes that “studying is a social activity” on campus.
Students report that the school is moderate, both socially and politically, although—and here’s a sign of the change overtaking the school—several students note that the students are more religiously serious and politically conservative than the faculty. When teachers disagree with Catholic teaching, students will meet “and make sure they all understand why the teacher is in disagreement with the Catholic faith and what the Catholic teaching is. Teachers who disagree with the Catholic faith lose respect quickly.”
ft rating: academic 22.5,
social 34.6, religious 37.7
Birthplace of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (focus), an influential and growing movement of peer-to-peer ministry among Catholics in higher education, Benedictine is about Catholic renewal. It’s the sort of place where young faculty homeschool their children, the theology major is among the most popular, and every year several graduating students enter religious orders. As one student puts it, “It’s really refreshing to be myself (in regard to living a Catholic life) and fit in perfectly.”
Benedictine also has a popular sports program, and the atmosphere is divided between college football players and ardent Catholic students. The college website highlights the role of the two monasteries (one female and one male) that provide the spiritual foundation for the college even as it encourages online visitors to listen to the college fight song. If you’re entertaining thoughts of a religious vocation, you’ll find lots of encouragement at Benedictine.
La Mirada, California
ft rating: academic 24.6,
social 36.6, religious 38.4
Biola is an acronym of the school’s original name, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. It was founded in the early twentieth century by Lyman Stewart, a Christian businessman who also funded The Fundamentals, a series of tracts from which Fundamentalism gets its name.
In its official literature, Biola makes no gestures toward the hearth gods of secular academia—diversity and inclusion—describing itself instead as “a community where all faculty, staff and students are professing Christians.” Faculty are required to affirm the main doctrines of premillennial evangelical theology. As for faith, as one student reports, “It’s everywhere you go on campus!”
At Biola the debates that divide the world of conservative Protestant Christianity into Calvinist and Arminian camps retain their passion. “Being Pentecostal,” observes a student, “is actually seen as an anomaly and not as accepted as one would hope.” The university isn’t afraid to impose worship and morality as well as to require courses. Students must attend chapel thirty times a semester and perform community service. School rules prohibit drinking and dancing, and students have to take several biblical courses. A serious Great Books program, the Torrey Honors Institute, provides an excellent educational option. Otherwise, the school is academically uneven—although a good place if you want to swim in the main currents of American evangelicalism.
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
ft rating: academic 24.6,
social 36.6, religious 38.4
Boston College, a large Jesuit institution in the environs of Boston, leaves a predictable impression. The students are mildly religious. One senior sums the data up best: “Certain small pockets are very vibrant; on the whole, the Catholic culture is average / lukewarm / slightly heterodox (in conformity with secular humanist culture).”
Apart from a small minority of active Catholic students, says another senior, “church at Boston College is a joke” and “‘social justice’ takes the place of actual doctrinal teachings.” Catholic ministry is present, but, remarks one student, it is “too politically correct, the theology can border on liberation theology, and it has a tendency to shirk from what is distinctively Catholic.”
In the classroom, BC has a variety of faculty persuasions. Students disagree about how much their religious views are respected by faculty members. Although one student acerbically reports that “nine of my ten professors were atheists who taught that their beliefs were fact, and one frequently referred to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion as indisputable fact,” the consistent word is that it “really depends on the professor.” Some professors are “unmistakably orthodox,” others “tend away from traditional and orthodox views without explicitly teaching them,” and others are “outright hostile to Church teaching.”
In student life, BC mirrors most other big universities. Students say that most undergraduates “work hard and play hard.” A recent alumnus emphasizes that most students “are very active in high school—good students, athletes, involved in extracurriculars—and this translates to burning the candle at both ends. Students study hard and party hard. I found this quite fun. Sleep is limited.”
In terms of the hookup culture, BC students report that it is about the average of other schools. About average. That seems the typical comment for Boston College.
ft rating: academic 37.2,
social 32.4, religious 20.9
Longtime BU president John Silber famously tried to transform the big and indistinct university into an intellectual powerhouse while crusading against the excesses of academic postmodernism. He helicoptered in such famous professors as Elie Wiesel, Christopher Ricks, and Geoffrey Hill, whom he hoped would leaven the academic culture. He was only partially successful.
One enduring legacy: Liberal-arts students take a core curriculum that engages classic texts. Peter Berger teaches in the school of theology, an otherwise undistinguished mainline Protestant program. As is the case at most American megaversities, the academic culture is diffuse, and Boston University is less what Silber made of it than what a student will make of it.
ft rating: academic 39.1,
social 25.0, religious 7.0
Brandeis embraces the paradox of being both intentionally secular and Jewish. It’s a place designed to support the idea that Jews can be Jews without being religious. As one student reports, “I had plenty of Jewish culture, which is what I’m after, without feeling pressured to actually be religious.”
Political opinion is conventionally liberal. As a student notes, “There were conservative students, I’m sure, but I never really heard from them.” Yet, in spite of the usual postmodern boilerplate about diversity and inclusion, the question of Jewish identity continues to dominate at Brandeis. Jewish holidays and the Sabbath are officially observed by the administration, and many Brandeis faculty specialize in Jewish philosophy, history, and literature. One student observes: “So many Jewish students mean that there’s a lot of that special Jewish crossover between culture, tradition, and belief. Most people float around somewhere in between truly religious and a sense of identity.”
Brigham Young University
ft rating: academic 31.8,
social 48.9, religious 39.3
With a Latter Day Saints ethic pervasive on campus, students at BYU report an environment free from encumbrances normally found on the college scene: drugs, alcohol, and even the more quotidian academic fuels such as caffeine. With dedicated professors and a few unusual traits—such as a high percentage of married undergraduates—BYU’s atmosphere is brightly colored by its unapologetic mission: “To assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.”
Students report their peers to be highly observant and to have chosen BYU for its Mormon environment. Students also say their administration and the student body are very conservative. Premarital sexual activity and alcohol use are violations of BYU’s honor code, and students report that the vast majority of their peers respect that code. Partying isn’t of the alcoholic variety, and students take their studies seriously. A generally undistinguished faculty tries hard.
Providence, Rhode Island
ft rating: academic 41.9,
social 30.9, religious 8.4
Once a Baptist alternative to the more puritanical Ivies, Brown is famous for being one of the most liberal of Ivy League universities. While campus ministries exist in pockets, one student writes, “The average Brown student is probably not religious, nor do they participate in religious activities,” adding that those who are religious “are more subtle about their beliefs and practices. For example, my roommate goes to church every week, but if I didn’t live with her, I wouldn’t know that she does that.”
Traditional religion may not thrive at Brown, but there is an active cult of Dionysus. Every year the Brown Queer Alliance hosts a now-infamous, six-hundred-person orgy on campus called “SexPowerGod,” dedicated to free exploration of sexual boundaries. Tickets sell out in minutes, and friendly staff members, with lubricant and condoms on hand, move around the room to make sure that all sexual activities are consensual. Students later can avail themselves of the services of the “Planned Parenthood Express” next to the Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream shop a few blocks off campus.
Brown students report that they love the interdisciplinary nature of and lack of requirements in the curriculum. Professors are fairly open-minded, and even if, as one student writes, religion “almost never comes up,” “Brown professors demand that students approach issues from a variety of perspectives.”
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
ft rating: academic 38.6,
social 34.4, religious 13.1
Bryn Mawr provides a rich target for satire. Local legend has it that the formidable M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr at the turn of the twentieth century, once declared, “only our failures marry.” In all likelihood the now venerable tradition of undergraduate lesbianism at elite schools (“gay until graduation”) was invented at Bryn Mawr.
The college atmosphere reflects the coddled, transgressive pretensions of upper-middle-class Americans, given a unique twist by the school’s long history of feminism and intellectualism. Bryn Mawrters tend to be academically serious and are not given to hard-core partying. Religious faith is marginal. A student reports: “The entire time I was there I might have known one person who attended services of any kind. It isn’t an important part of student life, although students get heavily into issues of activism.”
The college does not have a religious studies department, but students can take classes at Haverford, where David Dawson, a sympathetic reader of the Church Fathers, teaches. A well-regarded classics department anchors the humanities, and longtime professor Stephen Salkever, a Straussian political theorist, emphasizes close reading of the Western tradition.
The tradition of intellectualism at Bryn Mawr protects against the dominance of goofy postmodern posturing, but the student culture reflects the almost complete lack of religious sentiment that characterizes haute bourgeoise life in the swanky suburbs of East Coast cities.
University of California
ft rating: academic 41.9,
social 31.1, religious 10.8
Considered by many to be the magisterial seat of left-wing university activism, Berkeley is not ideal for students of faith. That’s not to say politically conservative students can’t thrive there; many of them flourish in Berkeley’s hostile territory. But religious students could do better elsewhere.
Sex and drugs are at home at Berkeley, at least in theory, but not everyone goes along for the ride. There’s a sense among students that underneath the political activism and the school’s reputation for being an ideological monolith, Berkeley is home to just as many nerds and jocks as it is to modern hippies. Still, the faculty and administration are among the most liberal in the nation. Traditionally minded students have to tread carefully among Berkeley’s seemingly endless number of courses and majors.
California Institute of Technology
ft rating: academic 46.3,
social 34.4, religious 10.7
Cal Tech is so small that it would be invisible in the landscape of American higher education if it were not one of the great scientific institutions of the modern era. Students both benefit and suffer from its intense academic atmosphere. Dominated by science courses, Cal Tech is not run by postmodern professors who criticize capitalism by day and check their retirement accounts by night. Truth is taken very seriously, and, as a result, the basic, truth-affirming thrust of religious faith is not alien.
Cal Tech makes ample room for brilliant eccentrics, and even those on campus who think Christianity is bunk aren’t likely to hector and harass those who believe. Moreover, a pious student worried about the hedonism of American college life has little to fear at Cal Tech, where lab time takes priority over party time. In all likelihood, Cal Tech provides the best undergraduate scientific education in the world, and the scientific culture of truth provides a positive environment.
Grand Rapids, Michiganft rating: academic 28.8,
social 37.9, religious 34.1
Calvin College is the Dutch Vatican of the Christian Reformed Church. A large percentage of students were raised in the Reformed Church in America, and Dutch surnames are common. Many on the faculty are Calvin graduates, and to receive tenure a faculty member must also be a church member. The philosophy department carries forward the Calvinist tradition of intellectualism married to faith; Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung and James K.A. Smith are the department’s rising stars. Calvin does not require chapel service, but, as one student notes, the college is clear about its identity: “Calvin tries to make reformed students.” The College manages to combine a serious Christian atmosphere with an academic culture engaged in contemporary intellectual life.
ft rating: academic 40,
social 32.2, religious 9.8
Carleton College is an East Coast liberal-arts college transported to small-town Minnesota. This gives it a reactionary mentality that overcompensates for the largely conservative culture of the Midwest by accentuating the school’s liberal commitments. Students often select Carleton not just because of its fine (if now somewhat dated) academic reputation but also because they perceive it as an oasis of progressivism. The outcome is an ideological homogeneity greater than one finds in places where there are no local Bible churches to create the anxious thought that not everybody reads the New York Times.
Catholic University of America
ft rating: academic 26.7,
social 32.6, religious 30.2
Located in a rough-edged neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Catholic University was founded by Pope Leo XIII and is surrounded by nearly sixty affiliated institutions, leading people to call the area “little Rome.”
But not all roads lead here. The undergraduates are predominantly East Coast Catholics who, on the whole, are moderately religious and did not choose Catholic University because of their faith. Students do report the school’s campus ministry offers great access to liturgies and activities ranging from Habitat for Humanity to Theology on Tap, but no one is forced to participate. “There are lots of non-Catholics, too,” says one student, “and the campus is very laid back.” CUA students tend to be conservative, and they turn out in large numbers to support the national March for Life each year.
Catholic University’s academic program has some high points, particularly its honors program and the philosophy and theology departments, but students report that most of their peers “are not that into school.” The average student studies as little as possible, the better to engage in the very active alcohol and hookup culture off campus. The dorms have rules, but students report that you really have to try to get in trouble for violating those rules.
All things considered, Catholic University provides a good environment for a student who wishes to seek out religious activities, but the student culture is a mixed bag that leans toward the average excesses of other large institutions. Good for graduate studies, but the new president (see page 64) needs to make some changes to save this school for undergraduates.
University of Chicago
ft rating: academic 45.7,
social 33.0, religious 16.7
The University of Chicago was one of the founding members of the Big Ten Conference. Chicago running back Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy, and between 1933 and 1939 Chicago was second only to the University of Michigan in Big Ten championships. Then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins eliminated the football program; as other schools professionalized their teams, Hutchins saw that Chicago would have to choose brains over brawn. It has since (perhaps not by coincidence) become known as the place where “fun comes to die.”
Students at Chicago are, in general, not particularly religious, and the campus atmosphere is one “that encourages people not to acknowledge religion.” While “every religious background is represented and taken into account by the administration and student groups,” those groups are “not very visible on campus.” For Catholic students there is the “lively” Calvert House and the Lumen Christi Institute, which hosts lectures and colloquia and offers noncredit courses. Jewish students say that a “presence is there,” but not a significant one.
Students spend, on average, between twenty-five and thirty hours a week studying. Some study “all the time.” Chicago, one recent alumnus explains, “is the kind of place where students compete with each other to study more. It’s part of the culture.” There is little time for partying, but Chicago offers a “pretty typical college experience in terms of sex.” Drinking and smoking are also fairly prevalent.
Student opinion about respect for traditional and orthodox views ranges from assertions that “Chicago is one of the only really big secular and prestigious schools where it is considered intellectually dishonest to dismiss religious views out of hand,” to the observation that there is a prevalent “focus on Nietzsche and how religion and God were ‘created.’” Students are in agreement that the student body, faculty, and administration are all, in general, more socially liberal than conservative, although the university did recently launch the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.
Not religious at all, but among the religion-friendliest of elite schools in America.
Front Royal, Virginia
ft rating: academic 28.3,
social 36.4, religious 40.8
Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley about an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., Christendom is a small Catholic liberal-arts college that was founded in 1977 “to restore all things in Christ.” True to their school’s reputation, the students are an extremely religious and self-selecting group who come to immerse themselves in Catholic culture. Students praise the faculty and course work, and graduates say the education left them well rounded and strong in their faith.
But prospective students should be aware that Christendom is a small place. Students become very well acquainted, which some see as a good thing; others find the togetherness tiresome. Community is a theme in student life. Students report too-draconian rules that are upheld in the name of community: Public affection and mixing between the sexes in dorms is off limits, no pop music is allowed at dances, there is no Internet access in dorm rooms (the computer lab closes at midnight), all movies must be approved (R-rated movies are confiscated), and student rooms are routinely inspected for contraband.
Still, according to students, drinking takes place off campus or down at a nearby dam, even when it’s snowing. Overall, Christendom provides more access to the sacraments than other colleges and a solid grounding in the Western humanities, but it might smother some weaker students.
Hamilton, New York
ft rating: academic 36.3,
social 29.0, religious 13.8
Colgate is the sort of place that feels guilty for being a pleasant and academically sound place for upper-middle-class parents to send their children. Largish for a small liberal-arts college and smallish for a private university, Colgate can be thought of, perhaps, as Cornard—a Cornell that wants to be Bard College. Originally founded as a Baptist seminary, Colgate now has no links to religion. Steven Kepnes in the religion department is one bright light, offering students postliberal Jewish thought, but for many students Colgate is really just a lovely country club with final exams—a good place to be a fit, sporty undergraduate who wants a reasonably good education while enjoying fraternity and sorority life.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
ft rating: academic 36.1,
social 32.1, religious 12.7
A liberal-arts college, Colorado College is a typical representative of the species: Spirituality is acceptable, but organized religion—well, that’s going a bit too far. The school is on the Red Alert List for censorship of the free-speech campus watchdog group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—not a good sign.
But Colorado Springs overflows with conservative religious congregations. Focus on the Family and other conservative organizations are based there, making the school an ideal place for a student who wants to train to serve on the front lines of the culture wars. You’ll certainly know the opposition.
New York, New York
ft rating: academic 44.7,social 32.1, religious 14.3
A standard-issue elite university with the otherwise stultifying homogeneity of the dominant secular and progressive mentality moderated by New York City, where anything can be found, including intellectually serious forms of Christianity and Judaism. Students involved in Catholic organizations or the Campus Crusade for Christ are more likely to draw a shrug than a cold shoulder. As one student reports, “I became more religious during my time [here].” An opportunity for an excellent education in an urban culture too busy to harass students with serious convictions.
Ithaca, New York
ft rating: academic 41.7,
social 31.8, religious 10.5
Cornell combines a private endowment with public funding to create a fascinating hybrid: a land-grant university where an Ivy League college of arts and sciences coexists with agricultural colleges and a school of hotel management. The vertiginous scenery of Ithaca is more dramatic than any dimensions of religious life at Cornell, although the usual range of Christian ministries is available. Students can expect snow (a lot of it) and a parade of university-sponsored progressive causes such as the Center for Transformative Action, which is not about to consider transforming America’s permissive abortion laws.
ft rating: academic 29.6,
social 32.3, religious 24.9
Creighton describes itself as “a Jesuit university, rooted in the Catholic tradition,” and, as at the rest of America’s Jesuit colleges, how deep the roots go isn’t clear. Still, as Jesuit schools go, Creighton is relatively conservative, which puts it slightly left of center in the Catholic Church. Although there are certainly faculty and administrators who take the usual route of reducing “Catholic” to “social justice,” Creighton isn’t shy about Christianity. The university mission statement defines the Jesuit legacy as providing “an integrating vision of the world that arises out of a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.” The theology department mission statement is laced with quotations from magisterial documents.
First Things senior editor R.R. Reno holds a faculty appointment in theology, a department students get to know because of a six-course philosophy and theology requirement. A student-run group dubbed the St. Peter Canisius Society provides fellowship for traditionally minded Catholics. One student reports, “Almost everything is permeated with religion whether you want it to be or not”—as much a reflection, perhaps, of the religious conservatism of the Midwest as the Catholic character of the school. A passable undergraduate education at a Jesuit university that isn’t at open war with the Catholic Church.
University of Dallas
ft rating: academic 32.1,
social 35.4, religious 38.8
When the school’s administration referred to Dallas as the “Notre Dame of the South,” students and faculty cringed. Although the Princeton Review ranks Notre Dame higher across the board (except in fire safety), the students think Dallas is already “one of the best Catholic schools in America, and one of the few that remain true to the faith.”
Eighty-two percent of the students identify themselves as Catholic, and most are serious about their faith. The vibrant Catholic atmosphere, students report, is more the work of student initiative, strong faculty, and the school’s common Great Books core curriculum than of campus ministry or the administration. “The official campus ministry is rather mediocre and its effect on campus religious life borders on detrimental,” notes one recent graduate. The Cistercian abbey across the street, founded by Hungarians who were persecuted for their faith by the Soviets, provides a beautiful Sunday Mass and spiritual advice for many students.
According to one alum, “UD is one of few schools where the concern might be for the respect of heterodoxy. The theology classes are, as far as I am aware, perfectly within the lines—most protest from students, and it is rare, is against professors considered too charitable toward heretics.” Students identify themselves, the faculty, and the administration as pretty conservative—the administration a little less so.
Hanover, New Hampshire
ft rating: academic 42,
social 31.3, religious 11.5
An Ivy League university that insists on calling itself a college, Dartmouth has been the scene of a number of struggles by students and alums to resist the dominance of postmodern academic liberalism. The net result is not a traditional view of religious faith or morality. As one student reports, “The vast majority of the campus is socially liberal, but a notable conservative faction exists at Dartmouth that does not exist at peer institutions. However, this conservative faction stands more for libertarianism and self-interest than social conservatism.”
A religious student will get some peer support in efforts to resist political correctness, but not much in the way of Christian fellowship.
Davidson, North Carolina
ft rating: academic 38.6,
social 33.2, religious 20.2
Once firmly embedded in the Presbyterian culture of the South, over the past few decades the homogenizing effect of elite academic culture has made Davidson less distinct and, by extension, less Christian. But the general influence of Southern religiosity makes a difference. Official college literature continues to affirm the “Presbyterian heritage” of the school, although in 2005 the board of trustees voted to allow for one-fifth of the board to be non-Christian. Davidson offers an elite liberal-arts education in an environment friendlier to faith than at New England alternatives such as Amherst and Bowdoin.
FT Rating: Academic 32.2,
Social 26.2, Religious 17.6
DePauw, often ranked number one in the country for “Greek life,” is not to be confused with DePaul, the huge university in Chicago—even though it often is. DePauw is accredited by the United Methodist Church, but the religious students at DePauw are as few and as private as at most other universities, and even slightly less religious than at schools with similar ecclesiastical ties. “There is a strong, vibrant core, but actual practitioners are quite few,” reports one student. Another adds, “There are an awful lot of clubs, like InterVarsity, that make you think the student body is religious, but they don’t really act that way outside of their Bible studies.”
Students criticize the treatment of religion at DePauw, particularly in the religion department. “‘Religiosity’ is falsely dichotomized with spirituality,” says one student, “and is taken as an issue of culture no more significant than allegiance to an NFL team.” The department promotes “an existential or postmodern approach that first blends religious metanarratives and then summarily discounts them (without sound philosophical inquiry),” says another student.
Second tier socially, academically, and religiously, even in relation to its soundalike school one state to the west.
ft rating: academic 33.5,
social 32.5, religious 19.2
Dickinson is part of the ever-aspiring cohort of private colleges that have reputations for teaching but don’t make it into the top-ten lists—even, in this case, for the profusion of leaves on Dickinson’s campus grounds. (If that’s your desire, try Northwestern in October.) Drawing students from well-to-do East Coast households, Dickinson isn’t a vibrant place for students of faith. Environmental sustainability is at the forefront of Dickinson literature promoting the moral appeal of the school. A noble goal but a thin substitute for religion.
Durham, North Carolina
ft rating: academic 43,
social 32.0, religious 18.7
Duke is one of the universities that Tom Wolfe melded into Dupont U. for his novel about postmodern American college life, I Am Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe’s picture of all-embracing hedonism is confirmed by one student, who reports, “Huge hookup culture.”
The academically excellent undergraduate students have a wide range of political and religious convictions. But Duke administrators and most faculty fall into the postmodern liberal mode. Past president Nan Keohane deplored the university’s “Christian association,” which can be traced back to its foundation as a Methodist institution. Duke still hosts a divinity school and a theological faculty among the nation’s finest. So: World class for graduate students, but for undergraduates? A school for the strong willed and strong stomached, and for those who demand a winning basketball team.
ft rating: academic 40.7,
social 30.6, religious 16.3
Founded as a Methodist institution, Emory has evolved into a large research university. A huge donation in 1979 catapulted Emory into the big time. The Candler School of Theology at Emory remains tied to the United Methodist Church, and professors Luke Timothy Johnson, Ian McFarland, and Timothy Jackson add to the impressive mix. The philosophy department at Emory has a number of eccentric figures who cut against the usual academic consensus. As is the case with most schools in the South, the First Things survey suggests that students are more religious and conservative than the faculty and administration, although they party just as hard as their New England peers.
New York, New York
ft rating: academic 31.3,
social 32.3, religious 24.5
Fordham reflects the tension in Catholic education. The school recognizes that Catholic identity is increasingly at odds with secular academic culture. At the same time, within the competitive atmosphere of higher education, Fordham desires recognition and success.
This results in a mixed atmosphere—less secularized than at Georgetown but not possessing a clear ideal of Catholic education. The presence of priests on the faculty has an obvious symbolic significance and encourages students who want their educations to strengthen their faith. One student expresses dissatisfaction with campus ministry, which, like the administration, is caught in the bind of trying to serve a Catholic goal not accepted by a large percentage of faculty: “Campus ministry is clearly present, but often seems lethargic and timid, like it’s too scared of offending someone to preach the gospel with boldness.”
The theology department is a disappointment, largely committed to dissent from Church teaching. Fordham has two undergraduate locations, one in Manhattan, near Lincoln Center, and the other, the main campus, at Rose Hill in the Bronx. A tip from some students: “Lincoln Center has a more liberal student body and Rose Hill is more conservative.”
With a good honors program and a group of faculty willing to support a committed Christian, a student at Fordham may combine faith with education. Emphasis on may.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
ft rating: academic 24.2,
social 35.9, religious 46.2
Founded in 1946, the Franciscan University of Steubenville is one of the most religious schools in America.
Almost all the students are Catholic, and, as one says, “the Catholic faith is an integral part of campus life.” Students go here because of their faith, and one graduate reports that “some even turn down scholarships to well-respected Ivy League universities, in order to live and learn at an authentically Catholic college.” Indeed, “religious opportunities are endless” for Catholics, especially those in the “charismatic” tradition. Students often join “faith households” whose members pray and study in community.
Catholic identity also infuses the classroom, with one student commenting that the professors are “on fire for the faith.” Students report that nearly everyone on campus is socially conservative. Professors generally teach according to the Magisterium, and when, as one student writes, they introduce unorthodox material, they have to reckon with upset students.
Campus residence halls have strict visitation policies, and students are not sexually active. Franciscan students report that the average student studies about fifteen hours a week but does not really “party,” unless “by ‘party’ you mean social time, not necessarily involving alcohol.” There is drinking off campus, but students say it’s usually “in moderation.”
Greenville, South Carolina
ft rating: academic 32.2,
social 35.7, religious 26.4
With its student body recently rated by the Princeton Review as one of the top-ten socially conservative colleges, and its 2600 students divided among twenty-one student religious groups, Furman emerges as a college where a life of faith is still possible.
No longer officially Baptist, the school has Catholic, evangelical, and mainline Protestant groups on campus. At least one respondent in our survey says, however, that dialogue between students of faith and nonbelievers could use some improvement.
George Mason University
ft rating: academic 27.2,
social 32.5, religious 15.8
A public university just outside Washington, George Mason would be an ordinary commuter school, except that it has evolved into a player in legal, policy, and political debates, often featuring faculty on the conservative side. A low percentage of students lives on campus, which diffuses the campus atmosphere. Probably better for graduate and law students.
The George Washington University
ft rating: academic 28.3,
social 30.4, religious 13.5
Located within walking distance of the White House, GW tends to attract students who want to thrust themselves into the political and policy world of Washington. Faculty tilt leftward, but because GW wants to be part of the national debate, conservative voices are present and heard. GW has the expected range of campus ministries: Hillel, Chabad, and a Newman Center. Overall, however, the school is more preoccupied with rendering to Caesar than to God.
Good for strong-willed students with clear-cut goals. For students who don’t know what they want, GW will only fool them into thinking they’ve found it.
ft rating: academic 39.1,
social 32.6, religious 20.2
With a national reputation, especially for international relations, Georgetown is sometimes held out as the poster child for post-Catholic higher education. The university has some good teachers committed to the Catholic mission in higher education—James Schall and Patrick Deneen are two. But at the same time it has faculty hostile to Catholicism and a culture that pulls students away from their faith. The course work and the campus culture remain just Catholic enough to tempt a faithful student to think believing less is actually a way of being more Catholic.
Politically, the average student is center left. “This university is on the left side, but in my experience is far more moderate / to the right than the other elite schools,” says one. The administration is caught between appeasing the often anti-Catholic faculty and gentling the Catholic alumni while marketing to Catholic parents of potential students. Perhaps a tightrope walker could manage it, but the administration moves more like a pulled-over motorist drunkenly trying to walk a straight line for the police. You want your Catholicism straight, go elsewhere. You want your elite education undiluted, go elsewhere.
ft rating: academic 31.6,
social 31.1, religious 19.6
Originally founded as a college to function in tandem with nearby Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Gettysburg College now highlights its environmental sustainability—the new hearth god of higher education. Religious convictions are not unknown.
ft rating: academic 28.8,
social 32.4, religious 25.6
A school in free fall: dejected, dis heartened, and depressed. Gonzaga no longer calls itself “Jesuit” but “Jesuit-sponsored.” The recently retired president, Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., tried to make faculty appointments that would bring the university into greater harmony with Catholic teaching, but he largely failed; the religious studies department is a prime example. Various committees and initiatives to redefine the Gonzaga “mission” and “identity” suggest this Jesuit-sponsored university hasn’t figured out how to survive as a Catholic institution.
Student life reflects this. “There is strong encouragement of Mass attendance and many Christian groups, Catholic and otherwise,” says one student, who adds, “however, there is little encouragement of Christian behavior in daily life.” Students seem to be politically about the same as at the more famous Jesuit school Georgetown: slightly to the left, on average, but more religious. Not that they get the encouragement they need.
ft rating: academic 26.7,
social 35.7, religious 39.3
Founded in the late nineteenth century as a training college for Baptist missionaries, Gordon has become the major evangelical college in New England. Helmed for many years by a leader of the “neo-evangelical” movement that reacted against Fundamentalism, the school has remained on the left side of evangelicalism even as evangelicalism has itself moved left.
Which is probably why, for example, the school recently instituted a gender-studies program. Students and faculty must sign a traditional Protestant statement of faith that includes belief in biblical infallibility and in hell. Students also must sign a life and conduct statement that prevents them from using drugs, drinking, and smoking—but only on campus, a limit that distinguishes Gordon from many other evangelical colleges.
The average undergraduate feels the school’s religious life is vibrant. One enthusiastic student declares his professors “avid followers of Christ” and says his classes “have revolutionized the way I look at the world.” There are dissenters, however. “The student body is mixed,” reports one. “I have found that many do not care for Christianity.” Another says that “Catholics are not generally respected even though the school is nondenominational.”
Grove City College
Grove City, Pennsylvania
ft rating: academic 28.7,
social 43.3, religious 38.5
Grove City is a small, Christian, liberal-arts college in southwestern Pennsylvania that was founded by a Presbyterian. But since opening its doors to students in 1876, it has accepted students “without regard to religious test or belief.”
Students at Grove are a very religious bunch, and for most students faith played an important role in their decision to attend. To meet the high student demand, Grove City offers over twenty campus ministries, ranging from the Canterbury Fellowship (for Anglicans) to the Newman Club (for Catholics) to Clowns for Christ (for clowns, one guesses). Students are required to attend chapel sixteen times each semester.
Grove City is as conservative as it is Christian. In the preface to the student handbook, students learn that “the college unapologetically advocates preservation of America’s religious, political, and economic heritage of individual freedom and responsibility.” The commitment to freedom and responsibility extends to refusing all federal financial aid to repulse all federal regulation. Grovers identify themselves, the faculty, and the administration as all quite conservative.
Students are studious, and Grovers don’t party much. Alcohol is banned on campus, and while drinking off campus is permitted for those of age, observable drunkenness on campus is punishable by a $100 fine and suspension for repeat offenders. Students generally follow the rules, and the little off-campus drinking that goes on “is more of a social / taste thing,” one student reports. “Nobody really gets too drunk.” Tobacco use is fairly uncommon (although not prohibited), drug use is even more rare (and is prohibited), and a campus hookup culture is practically nonexistent.
ft rating: academic 47.5,
social 33.8, religious 14.6
The first college in what would become the United States, Harvard has long cherished its primacy along with its religious heterodoxy. In the early nineteenth century it provided the intellectual leadership for a Unitarianism as severe in its moralism as in its rationalism. Neither has survived, and today Harvard does what it has done for nearly four hundred years: embody the prejudices of East Coast elites with serene confidence in their essential importance and goodness—their essential Harvardness.
Because that elite no longer cares about Christianity, neither does Harvard. A recent revision of the general-education requirement saw the rejection of a course on religion, with Steven Pinker leading the charge against anything remotely linked to the vice of faith. Judaism—sustained by a relatively high percentage of Jewish students and perceived by the faculty as a minority faith not directly guilty for the many sins of Western culture—fares better than Christianity.
But Harvard is not a monolith, and it offers opportunities for the traditionally minded. One student reports, “Though the faculty lists liberal, there are many highly respected, more conservative intellectual heavyweights who teach popular classes.” Harvey Mansfield in the government department was long a friendly voice for students of faith. Students should seek out Jon Levenson at the divinity school and Jeffrey Hamburger in art history. Overall, the atmosphere of hostility to faith will galvanize at best, undermine at worst.
ft rating: academic 40.9,
social 32.5, religious 15.2
Haverford served for nearly a century as a religiously conservative place for pious Quakers to send their sons. Although the college has long since outgrown its parochial identity, it remains more comfortable affirming its links to its religious background than most other elite liberal-arts colleges. It must be said, however, that this stems from the fact that “Quaker” tends to function in the same way as “Jesuit”: It reassures contemporary liberals, while “Christian” induces anxiety.
In any event, in Haverford’s official literature, “Quaker values” boil down to “individual dignity, academic strength, and tolerance.” The ethos is fairly typical. Being pious entails being good, which means being a liberal, and because Haverford is liberal, it must be fulfilling the ideals of Quaker piety. Q.E.D.
When judged by the general standards of East Coast colleges, Haverford is relatively restrained: a warmer, cuddlier Amherst or Williams. Social life tends toward the sensible hedonism of students who want to keep their high-achieving lives on track. The students are proud of a venerable student-administered honor code, which includes responsibility for policing social behavior as well as ensuring academic honesty.
Religious life is marginal, although, as one student observes, “it’s too small a school for anything to have a strongly vibrant presence.” Another student reports that the Catholic ministry is “very under-the-rug and hidden.” John David Dawson teaches in the religion department, and he offers subtle and sympathetic engagements with classical Christian texts, as does C. Stephen Finley with English literature.
ft rating: academic 34.6,
social 37.5, religious 37.5
Once referred to as the “citadel of American conservatism” by National Review, First Thing’s data confirm that Hillsdale is one of the most conservative and religious colleges in America.
While most Hillsdale students did not choose the school because of their faith, they generally “take their religion (every variety of Christianity . . . well, every non-liberal variety) very seriously,” as one student puts it. The campus is “very strongly Protestant Christian,” with vibrant student fellowships.
Politically, the Hillsdale community is extremely conservative (one student chimes in that “Probably at least 80 percent of students voted against Obama”). In the classroom, traditional and orthodox religious views “are not just respected (in most departments, by most professors) but taken for granted. Certain biology, psychology, etc., professors are less respectful, but Hillsdale may be the most Christian-friendly non-Christian college in the country.”
In terms of student life, Hillsdale students take school seriously and “spend more time studying than average college students”—twenty-five hours per week on average. While there are groups of students who are sexually active and party hard, it is not a “large majority that engage in these activities.” Many Hillsdale students find a marked joy in smoking, though, which leaves other students fuming.
College of the Holy Cross
ft rating: academic 34.2,
social 33.5, religious 23.6
Holy Cross is to Amherst what Boston College is to Harvard—a Jesuit school gunning for membership in the top ranks of American colleges—and with similar results. Academically, Holy Cross and BC aren’t quite there, but elite academic culture forces them to embrace gay rights, feminism, and a broad critique of all forms of traditional authority.
As is the case with so many Jesuit colleges and universities, the brand put forward tends to be “Jesuit,” with “Catholic” mentioned only later. Hecatombs are sacrificed to the idols of “openness” and “inclusiveness” in the official literature, and opportunities for multicultural education figure more prominently than campus ministry—which, in any case, shifts questions of faith into “social justice.”
All is not darkness. As one student reports, “The political science and economics department is strongly conservative, while the religious studies department is strongly liberal. There is, however, a portion of the religious studies department focused on Catholic theology.” However secularized it becomes, the sheer fact of Catholicism keeps Holy Cross from becoming simply another East Coast liberal-arts college. But just barely.
Holland, Michiganft rating: academic 30.2,
social 34.1, religious 31.8
Affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, Hope College began as an orphanage but proved to be unneeded as such when villagers took the orphans into their homes. At this college with a standard mission and values statement (“to be a caring community”), the board last spring reasserted its policy of condemning homosexual acts and overcame advocacy by students and faculty to change it. (The faculty’s response included creating a misnamed “Sexuality Programming Committee.”) The board did not budge, even though the Reformed Church’s position is more liberal.
Johns Hopkins University
ft rating: academic 41.9,
social 33.6, religious 11.3
Yes, Johns Hopkins University gets ranked as one of the top universities in the country by U.S. News and World Report. Yes, it’s widely recognized for its serious students and the research churned out by its faculty. But as an undergraduate institution, it doesn’t measure up. If you’re a pre-med student, a Hopkins degree might stand for something. Otherwise, wait for graduate school to come here.
Students report that Blue Jays are not a very religious lot. As one senior puts it, there are “a few die-hards” but “most kids are normal.” The lackluster demand of the student body corresponds to a low-key campus ministry presence. Still, students report that the classroom atmosphere is fairly tolerant of orthodox religious views.
ft rating: academic 36.3,
social 31.8, religious 17.4
Kenyon gets kudos for its idyllic rural campus and its strong academic program. Its particularly strong English department was once home to John Crowe Ransom, Robert Lowell, and Robert Penn Warren, and it continues to produce the prestigious Kenyon Review.
Kenyon does, in fact, have an affiliation with the Episcopal church—you’ll find that fact on the website if you look hard enough—but it’s not a presence much felt on campus, where most students aren’t very religious. Students report: “Religion is what you make of it at Kenyon. There are those who partake in religious life, and those who do not.” But others describe an atmosphere that is “generally pretty hostile to any openly religious sentiment that jarred with liberal sensibilities. The opinion of a religious person was largely unwelcome.”
You’ll find religious student organizations for Episcopalians, Catholics, and Jews as well as interdenominational religious organizations. “Other than some perfunctory, regular charity events,” however, one recent alum explains of the Newman Center, “there is no real Catholic presence. The Episcopal Church, which founded the college and has a chapel on campus, has even less presence, if that seems possible.”
The Kings College
New York, New York
ft rating: academic [insufficient data],
social 30.5, religious 32
With its campus in the Empire State Building, The King’s College was reestablished a decade ago by the evangelical Campus Crusade for Christ to foster Christian engagement in the public square. It is a school for the culture wars. It offers three majors: business; politics, philosophy, and economics; and the Arts.
The provost, Marvin Olasky, is also the publisher of World magazine; the new president is Dinesh D’Souza (see page 61); and the school boasts such guest faculty as the popular Catholic writer Peter Kreeft. Everyone has to sign a statement of faith, and students agree not to drink, smoke, or use drugs. The small student body (now about four hundred) may be more passionate about their religion than their politics, but not by much. Too little known to get an academic rating.
St. Paul, Minnesota
ft rating: academic 34.9,
social 31.4, religious 13.4
There are more people who would identify as ‘spiritual’ as opposed to ‘religious,’” writes one student at this nominally Presbyterian school. The Macalester website mentions its religious foundation in passing—and then defines its “distinguishing values” in entirely secular terms. The 2004 covenant between the school and its Presbyterian synod begins with the statement that both “freely covenant together to support educational opportunities for all people that lead to their growth in scholarship, faithfulness in character, and preparation to serve the common good.”
Not surprisingly, the school was ranked by Advocate magazine as one of the top hundred gay-friendly schools, and the website includes an extensive listing of on-campus and off-campus “LGBT Resources.”
Although the students are, as one says, “famous for being very liberal,” college life provides some room for ideological diversity. Says one student, “It’s a small student body, and I’m sure there are many socially conservative voices who are drowned out.” A recent grad reports, however, that “my parents were both hippies. I am a financially conservative accountant. I loved Macalester. I felt there was room to express views contrary to the popular opinion.”
Warner, New Hampshire
ft rating: academic [insufficient data],
social 36.5, religious 31.9
A fairly new (founded in 1973) and tiny (about 70 students) college in rural New Hampshire, Magdalen conveys its commitments by including, in the “About Us” section of its website, a page on its patroness, Mary Magdalen. The school takes a Great Books approach, calling its teachers “tutors” and insisting that they are not to “expound to the students” but to help students understand “the author’s position, to raise questions about the reading, to unmask opinions,” and to apply the insights to the world.
Magdalen is equally countercultural in its community. Sundays begin with a Mass for the entire college community, followed in the evening by Benediction, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and a formal dinner. “The campus was built to have the chapel in the center, in more than one sense,” as one student puts it. The students are highly religious and very conservative, politically and culturally.
ft rating: academic 28.3,
social 31.6, religious 23.1
Strong on school spirit and Jesuit identity, Milwaukee’s Marquette University is one of the largest Catholic schools in the nation and offers more than half a dozen professional schools. Marquette claims that nearly half its student body participates in religious activities, and students give their alma mater decent marks for a religiously hospitable environment. On the sliding scale of Jesuit colleges, Marquette seems not to be afraid of the “C” word, openly calling itself a “Catholic, Jesuit” university. A recent controversy about the offer of the job of dean of arts and sciences to a lesbian whose scholarship encouraged gay activism was resolved when the now-retired president, Fr. Robert Wild, S.J., rescinded the offer.
For Catholic life, Marquette seems to be a place of contrasts. On the one hand, students say both their peers and the administration have centrist to traditional leanings (the faculty leans more leftward), devotion is bolstered on all sides, and sexually abstinent students are “well represented.” At the same time, Playboy magazine rated Marquette the top Catholic party school, and—given the reputation of at least some Marquette students—there is major alcohol use and a non-negligible presence of sexual activity on campus.
ft rating: academic 25.2,
social 35.5, religious 32.0
Founded by the Brethren in Christ Church in 1909, Messiah has dissolved its legal ties with its denomination.
Unlike other schools that shed their denominational connections, however, Messiah is still an emphatically Christian college. The school has a statement of faith comprised of the Apostles’ Creed and a further confession of faith that affirms that “God creates each of us in the very image of God to live in loving relationships: free, responsible and accountable to God and each other for our decisions and our actions.” College administrators and faculty are expected to support the confession and affirm the creed.
Students must attend chapel two times each week and finish courses in biblical studies and Christian theology. Not surprisingly, students at Messiah take their faith seriously, and many report it played an important role in their decision to attend. “The student body definitely loves God,” reports one senior, “and seeks a relationship with Jesus Christ.” But with just under three thousand students and a variety of religious affiliations, faith is by no means uniform. One recent alum describes the religiosity of the student body as “a mixed bag. Overall, you probably have a good mix of those who have rejected the faith they inherited from their parents, [those who have] embraced it, [and] those who are simply ‘culturally’ religious.”
The term mixed bag also describes the cultural and political perspectives of students and faculty—although, as one alum noted, “the school faculty generally represents a more ‘socially progressive’ perspective on Christianity, especially since the school has ties to more ‘liberal’ denominations from the Wesleyan / Pietist tradition,” while the student body “represents a mixture of views, with a very vocal and a very loud liberal wing that is tempered by the prevailing conservatism represented, as a whole, in the students.”
ft rating: academic 39.6,
social 31.4, religious 7.0
Another New England school—it sponsors the famous Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference—and one of the quintessential out-of-the-way, small liberal-arts colleges, Middlebury is also very secular. While the college supports religious student groups, the on-campus activities don’t amount to much. The college does provide a special dining plan for Muslim students fasting during Ramadan and special events for the Jewish high holidays. Will that do?
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Massachusetts
ft rating: academic 36.5,
social 32.6, religious 8.7
Founded as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837, Mount Holyoke is the eldest of the Seven Sisters. The college’s “Plan for 2010” asserts that the school “continues to defy the dominant trends in higher education toward large, public, nonresidential, professional, urban, and coed.” Academically quite rigorous, Mount Holyoke attracts bright and serious young women and also maintains some of the trappings of the old sororal community: milk and cookies each evening in the dormitories, Mountain Day in the fall, and a commencement weekend Canoe Sing. Whether the school is truly an all-women’s college is up for debate, however, as a student has only to enter as a woman. Once she has matriculated, her gender is up to her.
While Mount Holyoke was once a feeder for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, today it is missionary territory. “There’s a Christian Fellowship,” one student reports, “but MHC is pretty nonreligious.” Another student confirms that “the problem might be more with students hardly being religious themselves,” rather than “the college administration being non-encouraging in religious affairs.” In the classroom, students report, “traditional and orthodox religions as institutions are definitely treated with respect, . . . however, certain practices and practitioners therein are not always dealt with in such a prudent manner.”
New St. Andrew’s College
ft rating: academic [insufficient data],
social 37.1, religious 37.6
Founded in a small city in northwest Idaho in 1994 by a group of conservative Calvinists, New St. Andrews offers only a single program—small-group tutorials on the Great Books—and teachers tell students “attending college is a full time job” (with Sundays off). The school has no dorms; students are expected to live in the community. Students show a rare degree of religious seriousness. As one describes it: “I felt that a pagan school’s antagonism to Christianity would distract from the rigors of learning.”
Although, politically, the school is most famous for founder Douglas Wilson’s defense of the pre–Civil War South, the school’s approximately 165 students and sixteen faculty pursue an alternative conservatism. “We try to base our beliefs [on] Scripture, not the tradition of American republicans,” says one student, who adds that, in some ways, “we go much, much deeper into a ‘radical right’ view than average conservatives.” “While agreeing more with social conservatives on the right than those on the left,” says another student, those at New St. Andrew’s “would be more inclined to state that both are driving toward the cliff of apostasy.”
Reflecting the culture of high-church Calvinism in America, the school accepts what are considered vices in some evangelical schools: “Alcohol is valued highly by the community as a gift of God meant to be accepted with thanksgiving,” as one student puts it. Drinking means wine and beer, not mixed drinks, and smoking means pipes and cigars. Academically, the school is too little known to have much of a rating. Its best-known professor, Peter Leithart, writes frequently for First Things.
New York University
New York, New York
ft rating: academic 35.4,
social 30.3, religious 12.0
Religious views are reportedly respected by the faculty, although the campus culture can make religious students feel like outsiders. As one student tells us, “I’ve met more atheists at NYU than I knew existed in one place.” Another remarks that “you are considered ‘weird’ or ‘judgmental’ if you are a Christian.” Jewish students have fewer complaints; NYU has one of the strongest Jewish campus communities in the country.
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolinaft rating: academic 37.3,
social 33.1, religious 15.0
There are tons of opportunities for students to expose themselves to various faiths on campus, but I don’t think that as a whole the student body is particularly religious,” reports a student, summarizing the University of North Carolina. As one of the schools sometimes called “the public Ivies,” UNC’s religious life is typical in every way. The university has a “large Christian presence (at least culturally), but it’s hard for me to say how ‘religious’ it is,” is the way one student puts it. The school is, however, notably liberal. “The LGBTQ community has an extremely strong presence at UNC, and the College Democrats have almost 3 times the active members that the College Republicans do,” writes a conservative student. “It is no secret that the faculty and staff are also on the more liberal side of the fence.”
Leavened a little by its southern location, the school is pretty standard-issue stuff. No one needs to go here.
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
ft rating: academic 40.4,
social 36.9, religious 31.8
Well. Yes. Notre Dame. How do you solve a problem like this school? / How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? / How do you find a word that means Notre Dame? / A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!
Let’s say a word on her behalf. Notre Dame’s student body reflects the American Catholic Church in all its glory, as does the university as a whole. In some ways, it is clearly a school in decline: The philosophy department, the administration, and the sports program are all decaying. Still, Notre Dame remains a decidedly Catholic institution.
As one student writes, “For all the recent negative hype, you cannot honestly spend any extended period of time at Notre Dame without being bombarded by Catholic tradition and teaching. The administration may be making some questionable decisions, but the place is very Catholic. Period.”
The majority of Notre Dame’s students are practicing Catholics and many stellar students still choose Notre Dame because of their Catholic identity. As one graduate opines, “You really have the whole range of Catholics, from devout orthodox Catholics, to ‘progressive’ Catholics, to cultural Catholics. But, overall, I would say most students at Notre Dame are fairly religious.”
No other school seems to generate the same division and anger. When the First Things college survey asked knowledgeable figures to name the most Catholic and least Catholic of the Catholic schools in America, Notre Dame was the only school to appear on both lists—and sometimes on both lists from the same respondent.
Yes, Mass is offered more than seven different times daily and in every residence hall (over a hundred Masses every week), along with Eucharistic adoration, Bible studies, fellowship, lectures, discussions, films, and service projects. At the same time, campus ministry has gone whole hog into such things as Hindu prayer, Native American spiritual practices, and Eastern meditation. Religious culture on campus occasionally is disrupted by “clashes of differences in styles of spirituality (traditional versus contemporary, charismatic versus contemplative) among groups and individuals,” and, as another student writes, “there is a disconnect between the faith life of students and the lack of orthodoxy in teaching methods and curriculum. The administration seems to assume that student life alone is sufficient to sustain the faith life on campus.”
The majority of Notre Dame students stay on campus. The residence halls claim strict parietals, with harsh penalties, although a blind eye often is turned to drinking, especially in male dorms, where fines are spent on dorm activities. A large off-campus drinking scene surfaces during football season. Notre Dame students report they are “definitely less sexually active than almost every other school, but it’s still college.” The students who participate in sexual relationships off campus at least try to hide them.
The students are more conservative than the faculty and administration, although President Obama’s 2009 commencement address was widely supported by those same students. One writes that choosing classes at Notre Dame can be difficult at times because some departments are notoriously against Catholic teaching: “I once attended a lecture in which a member of the gender studies department attempted to justify pornography as a form of free speech. Most professors also disagree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and artificial contraception.” Another student insists: “It depends on the class and the professor. There are some real gems to be found in the undergrad and law school faculty that made every cent of my tuition worth it.”
Notre Dame mirrors the American Church today, for good and for ill. Prospective students should be aware that the school’s student culture is not the best fit for the eccentric, the uncoordinated, and, apart from graduate students, the intellectually intense.
ft rating: academic 37.6,
social 30.5, religious 8.9
Ever since its founding by two ministers, Oberlin has been among the most progressive institutions of higher learning. In 1841 it became the first college in the nation to award degrees to women. But along with this has come a move away from the school’s Christian origin.
A religious student reports, “there is a great deal of well-meaning curiosity and a wealth of options regarding religious choice.” But another student clearly states, about religious life, “there are a couple of groups—there is a presence. But it is not what I would call ‘strong and vibrant.’”
Even with the lack of structure that defines the Oberlin curriculum, students work fairly hard. With not much to do around town, the college does a good job of making sure students keep busy. The arts are particularly lively, with much of the talent coming from Oberlin’s own conservatory. The student body prides itself on how atypical it is, but Oberlin is, in fact, entirely typical in sex, alcohol, and drugs.
Patrick Henry College
ft rating: academic [insufficient data],
social 37.5, religious 34.1
The first college built specifically for Protestant homeschoolers, Patrick Henry College is also one of the few schools to refuse government funding. Curious, perhaps, because one of the college’s main goals is to train students to work in government. The founder and chancellor is activist Michael Farris, an early advocate of homeschooling who was named one of the one hundred “faces of the century” by Education Week. New Yorker writer Hanna Rosin chronicled the history of Patrick Henry College in her 2007 book God’s Harvard.
Students and faculty both agree to a statement of faith. One of the rare statements to include Satan at all, it goes beyond what the others include to say, “Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.” Faculty and trustees must agree to an additional “Statement of Biblical Worldview,” which not only lays out a more extensive theology but also includes a long section on the nature of government. In 2006 several professors quit, claiming that the administration’s interpretation of the statement violated their academic freedom.
The very small student body is very religious and very conservative. The faculty includes former Time magazine foreign correspondent David Aikman, professor of government Mark T. Mitchell, and Lutheran writer and former World magazine editor Gene Edward Veith, who serves as provost. Not well established enough to receive an academic rating.
University of Pennsylvania
ft rating: academic 42.9,
social 31.4, religious 14.3
The first American college founded—by Benjamin Franklin—to educate others besides clergy, and the first school to have a nonsectarian board, Penn is now an utterly liberal and utterly nonreligious school. Its Newman Center is the oldest in the country, but that isn’t enough to make it worth the effort. Penn is the preferred Ivy League school for Orthodox Jews. Go to graduate school here if you can’t get in there.
ft rating: academic 31.1,
social 32.6, religious 7.4
One of seven Claremont Colleges in the urban sprawl east of Los Angeles, and founded only in 1963, Pitzer describes itself as “a maverick in American higher education.” This may explain why the part-time faculty includes aging radical Tom Hayden. It also explains why the school has no formal requirements.
The students are not religious, and whether religion is respected at the school is a matter of disagreement. One student claims that “they [religious views] may be challenged, but they are certainly respected” while another insists that “it was not okay to have religious beliefs.” The students and faculty are politically liberal. About one in five majors in psychology and one in five in politics or sociology.
ft rating: academic 38.5,
social 32.5, religious 8.2
As the flagship college in the Claremont consortium, Pomona is one of the top small colleges in the country. Its academic atmosphere is akin to that of its East Coast competitors—Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, and so forth. The religious atmosphere follows to type as well. One student reports, “There is a campus worship center and a few Bible study groups, but Christianity is still a very marginalized culture at Pomona.” Another says, “professors can be very disrespectful of religious beliefs.”
Princeton, New Jersey
ft rating: academic 47.8,
social 33, religious 23.3
Everything about Princeton University’s official motto, Dei sub numine viget (Under the power of God she flourishes) would seem to describe the way things are going for students at Princeton these days. With a longstanding high academic ranking (among the highest in the First Things survey) and some of the most generous financial aid in the Ivy League, Princeton’s applications continue to swell. And while such schools are generally at the cutting edge of academic leftism, Princeton has emerged as more religion-friendly than many of its peers.
With about five thousand undergraduates, Princeton offers a little bit of everything, and students in our survey generally indicate a tolerant disposition toward religion. They mention that the Aquinas Institute, Princeton’s theologically orthodox Catholic ministry, is one of the most vibrant groups on campus. It is also a focus of intellectual rigor, recently producing several Rhodes Scholars, and supports a large number of students entering the Church each year. Evangelical groups and pockets of Jewish Orthodoxy also flourish.
Princeton’s administration gets mixed reviews from religious students. While the university has in many cases been hospitable to religious students, a few incidents have made students feel embattled. In a recent case, the university granted recognition to an Orthodox Jewish fellowship only after pressure from students. But the religious rarely feel isolated, and while many students are agnostic, few are hostile to faith, especially when compared to students at Princeton’s peer institutions. Several religious groups take advantage of Princeton’s enormous Gothic chapel, the centerpiece of its leafy campus. While most students chose Princeton for academics, some cite its religious atmosphere as important to their decision to attend, and many report a return to faith during their four years there.
The work-hard, play-hard crowd makes a showing at Princeton. Alcohol use is prominent at the famed eating clubs, and there is a hookup scene. Nonetheless, a group of Princeton undergraduates gained national media attention a few years back when they founded the Anscombe Society, a pro-abstinence student group whose influence has now spread to several other universities.
As at most universities of its type, Princeton’s faculty are left leaning and sometimes, depending on the academic department, appear hostile to faith. But incidents of academic bias, while not unheard of, are met with increasingly confident responses from students who have access not only to organizations such as FT board member Professor Robert P. George’s James Madison Program but also to the conservative publications and student groups that have a strong presence on campus.
Providence, Rhode Island
ft rating: academic 32,
social 25.9, religious 31.6
Providence (the only college in the country owned by the Dominicans) has worked successfully over the past thirty years to establish itself as a serious Catholic liberal-arts college. All students must complete a twenty-hour core curriculum in Western Civilization as freshman and sophomores. While for some this is just a series of prerequisites to plug through, for others “Civ” is the entry point to the Western tradition. These students enjoy such professors as Anthony Esolen and Brian Barbour in English, Paul Gondreau in theology, Nicanor Austriaco in biology, Richard Grace in history, and Matthew Cuddeback in philosophy.
A divide between academics and student life runs through the student body. There is, according to respondents, “a very strong campus ministry” for students, but, “you do need to seek it out.” A lively contingent of devout Catholic students makes faith the central point of their lives, but others, as one graduate points out, think you mean Massachusetts when you say “I’m going to Mass.” These students work industriously to keep Providence on Princeton Review’s top-ten lists of schools soaked with beer and liquor.
ft rating: academic 37.3,
social 30.9, religious 3.0
From the outset, in 1908, Reed College was a progressive institution determined to avoid the muscular Christianity of many colleges of the era. With no varsity sports or fraternities, Reed continues to take pride in its antiestablishment image—although it’s a pretty hackneyed establishment image by this point. The academic culture is fairly rigorous, with a high percentage of graduates going on to earn Ph.D.s. For a Christian student, Reed can be a four-year Mars Hill, which isn’t necessarily bad but requires spiritual stamina. Reed’s Christian community, says one member, “is vibrant and energetic in following Christ,” but “a campus with an unofficial slogan that says ‘Communism, Atheism, Free Love’ doesn’t exactly set a very welcoming tone for all religions.”
ft rating: academic 40.4,
social 32.2, religious 13.7
Well known for its science and engineering programs, Rice consistently ranks among the top universities in the country. The school benefits from a relatively small student body and research-oriented departments. Neither founded for religious reasons nor affiliated with any religious group, Rice has a religious life that is purely a function of student interest and involvement. As one student reports, “The student body is apathetic. They are neither hostile nor embracing in general.” Academic rigor moderates the usual undergraduate bacchanal, although once a year students do engage in a bacchanalian frenzy known as Night of Decadence. Religious students would be well advised to get off campus as the night draws nigh.
ft rating: academic 25.6,
social 35.2, religious 32.9
Samford—whose divinity school is led by Timothy George, a First Things board member—is a mid-sized school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Like its peers among conservative Protestant schools, it stresses “core values,” which include not only “engagement with the life and teachings of Jesus” but “learning and responsible freedom of inquiry” and “appreciation for diverse cultures and convictions.”
Students are guided by a system of values, and violations result in punishment. A violation of “the worth of the individual” (such as racial abuse) is punished with a minimum sanction of probation. “Lewd, indecent, profane and vulgar language,” a violation of “self-discipline,” gets a student a reprimand and a $50 fine.
Predictably, the students are generally very religious and the academic life sympathetic to traditional religious views. Politically, the students are conservative—perhaps even more conservative than the faculty.
ft rating: academic 35.4,
social 33.1, religious 7.4
A charming liberal-arts college, Smith combines a grand tradition of women’s education with an equally grand commitment to the sensibilities of East Coast elites, now suitably leavened with a commitment to diversity, one of the obligatory fundamentalisms. The campus culture is shaped accordingly, with gender studies a popular major and sustainability the latest goal.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
ft rating: academic 32.9,
social 14.9, religious 12.2
Whooey. All party, all the time. Affiliated with the Methodists until 1952, the University of Southern California now defines its mission as the “development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Whooey.
Once a school with a reputation for preppy students and political conservatism, USC today has a student body that is still moderately religious and slightly more conservative than the norm for large universities. But one student reports that, in a school of about seventeen thousand students, only one hundred attend Mass at the Newman Center. The right place to go if you’re determined to lose four years of spiritual, intellectual, and social development.
Atlanta, Georgiaft rating: academic 27,
social 28, religious 25
Spelman is the oldest historically black women’s college in America, long linked to the nearby Morehouse. The Baptist tradition plays a central role in Spelman’s history and religious life. Today, however, a multicultural sensibility tends to downplay the religious roots of the college and the faith of many students. As one student reports, “It seemed as if other religions are strongly emphasized much more than Christianity to avoid ‘offending’ those of other religions.”
St. John’s College
Annapolis, Maryland, and Sante Fe, New Mexico
ft rating: academic 23.4,
social 12, religious 24.8
A Great Books college since 1937, St. John’s has no religious affiliation. Freshmen start with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which they finish in three weeks, and move on to Plato, Aeschylus, Plutarch, Herodotus, Aristophanes, and Thucydides, all in the first semester. Students participate in two seminars a week, “intended,” the school’s website says, “to develop attentive reading habits, elicit clarity of thought and generosity of spirit, and encourage a willingness to embrace unfamiliar territory.”
“There is a great emphasis on discussion and exploration of religion and God,” one student observes. But the students are not noticeably more religious than those at more traditionally secular schools. St. John’s, says one student, “focuses on exploration more than actual action. There are a lot of atheists or agnostics at St John’s, and although they like to discuss religion, they seem almost proud of being ‘above’ believing in such ‘hogwash’ as God or even a god or gods.” The faculty, writes another, “is actively careful to not reveal its political or even religious standing.” St. John’s is the heaviest cigarette-smoking school in the First Things survey; apparently, tobacco makes Great Books and bull sessions more fun.
St. Olaf College
ft rating: academic 34,
social 33.9, religious 27.6
Founded by Norwegian immigrants who wanted a Lutheran college, the school is named after the martyred king who became Norway’s patron saint. It is still affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the more mainline of America’s two main Lutheran denominations, and calls itself “a college of the church.”
Located just southeast of Minneapolis, St. Olaf offers “not much for nonreligious types,” according to one student, although a different student notes that “religion can be completely avoided.” Another says, in a version of an observation made by students at many colleges, “There are few hot or cold; most are lukewarm.” In contrast to more confessional colleges, religion at St. Olaf is studied, according to the college’s website, “because religion has always been a major influence on the development of human societies.” The website also says this: “To participate meaningfully in contemporary culture, it is equally important to evaluate the merits of various theological beliefs and religious values.”
St. Olaf’s “Um Yah Yah” is said to be the only college fight song in waltz time. Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby briefly attended St. Olaf but left because the college was “ferociously indifferent to the drums of his destiny.”
University of St. Thomas
ft rating: academic 25.2,
social 32.4, religious 31.2
Unlike the school’s Minnesota namesake, St. Thomas’ mission statement states outright: “We are committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition.” The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College included St. Thomas in the list of twenty-one top Catholic schools, and even the theology department is reported to be conservative. Founded in 1947 by the Basilian Fathers and relatively young for a Catholic university, it is religiously “a school of extremes,” students report. Some students “are religious, most not religious at all, some strongly antireligious.”
St. Thomas’ former president, J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., was appointed secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2003. Some students complain that the administration has made the school less Catholic since his departure.
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota
ft rating: academic 25.2,
social 32.4, religious 31.2
The only Catholic school in America with an official connection with a pontifical university in Rome. “We actively engage Catholic intellectual tradition,” claims the school’s convictions statement, which does not mention any relation to the Magisterium or any commitment to Catholic teaching.
St. Thomas is owned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul, and, as is typical at Catholic universities, the departments that students describe as “at odds with Catholicism” include theology. In contrast, the philosophy and Catholic studies departments have strong Catholic identities. In Catholic studies, religious “views are not just respected but assumed,” writes one student, but “in theology, it depends on the professor. In justice and peace studies, let orthodoxy beware.” Almost half the students major in business and related fields.
Stanford, Californiaft rating: academic 46,
social 32.5, religious 15.1
Stanford gets high marks for its idyllic setting. Students find their peers supportive and the vast array of majors mind-boggling. As an added bonus, the balmy weather seems to diminish cutthroat competitiveness among the school’s ambitious students, who are among the “best and brightest” sought by Ivy League schools.
As at many large, secular universities, Christian groups are visible, and Catholics have made a solid niche for themselves. Students report an orthodoxy divide between themselves and the university-endorsed religious staff: The students show a tendency for seriousness and orthodoxy in contrast to the heterodox practices and beliefs on the faculty side. Relatively few students chose Stanford solely for its religious culture, but about half of Stanford students express religious interest.
Students indicate that many of their peers drink. Alcohol use is average for a large school; recreational drug use is moderate to low. As for the hookup culture, there seems to be a little bit of everything at Stanford. Most students seem to be able to find a niche no matter what.
Stanford students spend a significant portion of their time studying. Partying is an available option, but students park it behind academics.
Generally speaking, students report respect toward religious viewpoints, with only the expected pockets of religious intolerance. Conservative students can expect to meet some resistance from peers and professors, but not too much. Rumor has it that bias in course syllabi and intellectual circles can almost always be circumvented, as the campus isn’t overwhelmingly activist on the political side of academia.
ft rating: academic 43.3,
social 32.0, religious 10.4
Located in a suburb southwest of Philadelphia, Swarthmore has long been considered one of the top five small liberal-arts colleges in the nation. It is also one of the least religious colleges. This is despite its having been founded in the mid–nineteenth century by Quakers, and even though Rebecca Chopp, the president of the college, is a theologian.
Or perhaps the secularism makes sense. The Hicksite sect of Quakers that founded Swarthmore were the religious progressives of their day, holding that one could be guided by the Spirit beyond the letter of Scripture—and Rebecca Chopp is nothing if not a progressive theologian. “Swarthmore is a fairly unreligious place, and some might even call it antireligious,” suggests one student. Another declares the school “overwhelmingly agnostic or atheist.” In either case, “there are those students who do adamantly practice a certain religion,” most of them among the evangelicals. (The Catholic and Jewish contingents are reportedly small and quiet.) Also, “there are . . . students who are religious or spiritual but do not participate in campus activities.” One student says that not only are “a not altogether negligible number of students” religious, but “a good number of professors are religious. These matters are generally kept fairly hushed, and religion is not widely discussed.”
Swarthmore, politically, is even more liberal than it is unreligious. Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and Victor Navasky, the longtime editor of The Nation, are both graduates—but, then, so is Princeton professor Robert P. George. James Kurth is a well-regarded professor in the Swarthmore political science department. According to one student, “There is one known Republican in my entire class (out of nearly four hundred people), and he is known as ‘the Republican.’” Says the same student, “I suspect that there are quite a few more moderate liberals who just don’t voice their dissent on whatever issue they don’t agree with.”
ft rating: academic 28.7,
social 36.5, religious 35.2
A nondenominational college halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Taylor is one of the oldest evangelical schools in the country and one of the first to educate women and men together. Today it continues that concern with providing a college life different from that of the conservative mainstream; the school’s official “Multicultural Philosophy Statement” stresses the “equality of all people as imbedded in biblical teachings and as an integral part of Christian commitment” and “global interdependence.”
Faculty and students sign a lengthy “Life Together Covenant” that not only lists required behaviors (chapel attendance and Sabbath observance, for two) and prohibited behaviors (drinking and smoking, for two more) but also includes instructions on such matters as “Speaking the Truth in Love” and “Reconciliation, Restoration, and Restitution.” Not surprisingly, the students are highly religious, politically and culturally conservative, and are said to drink, have sex, and party much less than at secular schools. The faculty is almost as conservative.
Thomas Aquinas College
Santa Paula, California
ft rating: academic 35.1,
social 41.8, religious 40.9
Thomas Aquinas is a lay-administered Catholic school in the hills of the Los Padres National Forest, an hour and a half northwest of Los Angeles. The relatively young school (founded in 1970) is distinctive for its Great Books program. TAC is also distinctively Catholic and distinctively small. Ninety percent of the 350 students are Catholic, as is a correspondingly high percentage of the 37 tutors.
There are few Catholic student groups, but that is because, as one recent graduate puts it, “religion is not a ‘special interest’ on the campus. The entire premise of the college is a ministry.” Nearly all students report that their faith played a role in their choice of the school. Masses are available four times a day, all of them in Latin.
The overwhelming majority of students and faculty are conservative, students report, but they are also, in general, fairly uninvolved in political issues. It is, rather, a “very old-guard Catholic” conservatism that most subscribe to—and it is embraced more zealously by the college administration in promulgating campus rules such as curfew and dress code than many students would like.
In addition to about eighteen hours of classes, most students spend between fifteen and twenty-five hours each week studying. But students also report that they go to parties, on average, for three to seven hours a week. There is some disagreement among the students about how, exactly, one defines “partying.” For some it’s swing dancing or a movie in the commons; for others it’s an off-campus bonfire, with drinking and smoking. While roughly half the students smoke cigarettes, other recreational drugs are rarely, if ever, used. Members of the opposite sex are never allowed in the dorms, and promiscuity is rare. “I never heard a rumor of premarital sex,” one recent alum recalls.
Not a place for non-Catholics, but a school with a unique character. A genuinely different place to go to college.
Thomas More College
Merrimack, New Hampshire
ft rating: academic 21.9,
social 35.6, religious 39.4
A tiny, faithfully Catholic, liberal-arts college an hour north of Boston, Thomas More exudes orthodoxy; it is a successful collegiate experiment in Catholic intellectual life. Few other schools can boast of a mandatory semester abroad in Rome, affordable tuition with generous financial aid, a community as rigorous in spirituality as in academics, and students with stellar track records after graduation.
Students report high levels of observance coupled with a large percentage of students whose choice of Thomas More reflected the priority of faith in their lives. The curriculum is designed to shape students’ intellectual and spiritual formation. That said, some nonreligious students populate Thomas More and contribute to intellectual debate, with a campus scene, one student reports, of “tattooed hipsters and ankle-length skirted gals with cardigans and crucifixes on a necklace engaging in respectful discussion.”
Students seem to value abstinence. Illegal drug use is curbed by a zero-tolerance policy, and the campus is dry. Students imbibe at pubs off campus, but drinking still seems, in general, to be moderate. Tobacco smoke is a frequent companion, hovering in a cloud over late-night intellectual discussions. The curriculum is similar to the Great Books curricula of other small colleges and is noted for a focus on writing as well as literature and philosophy.
Trinity International University
ft rating: academic 22.4,
social 36.0, religious 33.3
Trinity International University is owned by the Evangelical Free Church of America, a church formed from the merger, in 1950, of two non-Lutheran Scandinavian denominations. The university “educates men and women for faithful participation in God’s redemptive work in the world,” according to its strongly evangelical mission statement. Among the school’s objectives, for example, are “A Reasoned Belief in the Christ-Centered Focus of Truth” and “A Purposeful Involvement in Contemporary Society.”
Some students describe a school unified in its evangelicalism; “Christianity is completely infused inside of Trinity,” says one. Others are more critical: “There are many students who are religious / spiritual. There are also many who are culturally religious, but it doesn’t seem as central to their lives. There are some who aren’t religious.” Almost as many students major in theology (19 percent) as in business and education (each 22 percent). The school, a few miles north of Chicago, hosts the highly regarded Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Its graduates include megachurch guru Bill Hybels and popular evangelist Ravi Zacharias.
ft rating: academic 36.7,
social 32.3, religious 12.1
Tufts boasts first-class academic programs, the feel of a small campus, and proximity to Boston. Often unfairly labeled a haven for Ivy League rejects, Tufts in fact offers opportunities that range from study abroad in the humanities to highly regarded science and engineering programs. Although the school easily falls into line with the overwhelming political correctness and academic leftism of leafy New England, some students report that the religious landscape at Tufts is moderately vibrant. They also say, however, that religious student groups are lukewarm when it comes to orthodoxy. The student body is secular, at least by a noticeable majority.
Sexual activity at Tufts appears average, and the administration seems to have drunk the Kool Aid on sexual liberation. (The school holds an annual Sex Fair that features free birth control and sex toys.) Many students drink, but few smoke. One student describes Tufts as “chock-full of liberal bourgeois bohemians” not entirely out of place in the New England liberal-arts scene, and Tufts students characterize their peers, faculty, and administrators as establishment liberals.
New Orleans, Louisiana
ft rating: academic 33,
social 27.0, religious 13.3
Tulane began as a medical college, turned into a state university, and then got privatized—the only American university to take that journey. Before Hurricane Katrina, it often was considered a school for bored, lazy rich kids—a reputation encouraged by an environment in which, as one student notes, “There is no last call, so there is no time when you have to stop partying.”
That image seems to have receded as the school has attempted to recover in the post-Katrina era. Tulane is religiously undistinguished and reportedly less diverse than schools in other places. “I feel like there is hardly any religious diversity at Tulane,” a student reports. “There are either Christians, Jews, or people who don’t really care. I hardly know any other people of other religions.” Other students complain that there are very few Muslims and no organized atheist groups. The faculty includes James Carville and the novelist Claire Messud, for what that’s worth. An unimportant and unremarkable school.
University of Tulsa
ft rating: academic 26,
social 33.4, religious 24.6
Matching the trajectory of colleges founded by religious groups—Presbyterians started the place as a school for Indian girls—the University of Tulsa’s motto once read, “Faith, Wisdom, Service: For Christ, For State,” but now reads, simply, “Wisdom, Faith, Service.” The school has a formal relation to the Presbyterian Church but calls itself “nondenominational.”
The religious identity is diverse, with First Things board member Russell Hittinger holding a chair in Catholic studies, for example, even as Tulsa is also one of the first universities in the country to have a mosque on campus. The students tend toward the religious and are more conservative politically than usual, although the fact that nearly half the student body comes from Oklahoma may help explain that. Religion for the students is mostly a private activity. “It is unprofessional to discuss [religion] in a classroom,” claims one, “but none is disrespected.” The University of Tulsa is also the rare school left where men significantly outnumber women.
ft rating: academic 28.1,
social 36.3, religious 36.6
A Southern Baptist college with a student body around four thousand, Union declares its commitment to building “a Christian liberal arts based community where men and women can be introduced to an understanding and appreciation of God, His creation and grace, and to humanity’s place of privilege and responsibility in this world.”
Union, as one student exclaimed, is “so completely Christ centered in everything, and I love it!” Faith was, for many Union students, a very important part of their decision to attend the school, and it remains a central part of their life now that they are there. “The emphasis Union places on developing a personal relationship with Christ really attracted me,” says another student. “It was one of the deal-sealing qualities Union had that set it apart from other private and even other Christian schools.”
Students are required to attend chapel fourteen times a semester. The chapel program “is the central and focal event of the University as a whole,” the student handbook explains.
Impropriety—which includes “premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, homosexual activities, or cohabitation on-campus or off-campus,” “public displays of affection,” pornography, alcohol on or off campus, and illegal drugs—is prohibited by the university, and punishments range from a reprimand to suspension. Students report that the student body is generally quite committed to these rules. Tobacco and alcohol use is quite rare. “I’ve only met one person who openly said she smokes,” reports one junior, “and she dropped out at the end of that semester.”
Students widely agree that, in class discussions, traditional and orthodox opinions are respected by faculty and students alike. Students identify themselves, the faculty, and the administration as staunchly conservative. A student summarizes Union this way: “Union integrates faith into their learning at all times. It is balanced enough that you don’t feel like you are being beaten over the head with the Bible, though.”
ft rating: academic 29,
social 34.9, religious 29.3
Independent of any Lutheran denomination, Valpo describes itself as “an international Lutheran university.” The school, located in northwestern Indiana, an hour east of Chicago, operates by a set of “core values.” These include “integration of faith and reason” and the “concurrent cultivation of intellectual, moral, and spiritual virtues” as well as “environmental stewardship.”
The administration and some of the faculty are trying hard to undo the school’s Lutheran heritage—which is why Valparaiso is on our list of declining schools. Why rush, this late in the game, to become just like everyone else? Still, religious students, including Catholics, report that the school can offer a supportive environment for their faith. (First Things board member Gilbert Meilaender teaches here, after all.) Students also report relatively low levels of sexual activity and alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. And relatively little studying, for that matter.
ft rating: academic 39.9,
social 32.3, religious 14.2
Although Vanderbilt was founded as a Methodist institution, just forty years afterward the board reduced the Methodist influence until the general conference severed ties with the school and built Southern Methodist University instead. Today, says one student, “most students would probably classify themselves as Christian. However, many of those with this identification do not attend any religious service, nor could they tell you what the central message of their faith is.” Their faith tradition “is often more of a cultural designation than an active spiritual choice.” Students also report that religious groups are strong but do not influence the life of the school.
Both students and faculty are slightly more religious and conservative than students at similar universities. One student notes, “While the professors are fairly liberal compared to normal people, they’re actually pretty conservative compared to other professors.” About one-third of the students are majoring in social sciences—an unusually high percentage—with another eighth majoring in engineering. Vanderbilt also is the rare school at which foreign languages and literatures rank among the four most popular majors.
Poughkeepsie, New York
ft rating: academic 38.4,
social 30.6, religious 5.4
Once a stereotypically WASP institution, Vassar today is fashionably diverse and innovative, with only three required classes, no core requirements—and a reputation for sexual and ethnic (although not ideological) diversity. Both students and faculty are vehemently antireligious. “There is not a strong religious / spiritual culture at Vassar, and staunch, overbearing atheism is the norm,” notes one student. Vassar has an unusually high number of students majoring in the visual and performing arts (about one in eight) and foreign languages and literatures (about one in eleven). For the same level of antagonism, the religious student can get a better education elsewhere.
ft rating: academic 33.4,
social 32.6, religious 23.5
Although this is a Catholic liberal-arts college that requires freshmen to study Augustine for a year, Villanova’s student body is practically oriented: One-third major in business fields and another third major in the sciences or social sciences. Once famous as a party school for preppy Catholics, it is now better known for improved academics.
The faculty includes many serious Catholics—something not always true of Catholic universities. The school is owned by the Augustinian order, and an Augustinian Institute supports the university’s “efforts to give Augustine’s thought a vibrant and integral place within Villanova’s academic and community life.” Villanova’s curriculum “is shaped by Augustinian ideals and a Catholic faith that is alive and contemporary,” according to the website. Fun fact: Wired magazine ranked Villanova as the country’s number one school for Internet access.
University of Virginia
ft rating: academic 40.2,
social 31.7, religious 17.1
Often called “Mr. Jefferson’s University” after its founder—a man not noted for religious conservatism—UVA nevertheless remains one of the more religiously sympathetic major schools in the country, even though those terms are relative. The faculty includes conservative sociologists James Davison Hunter and W. Bradford Wilcox, both Christians, and the eminent emeritus Christian historian (and member of the First Things board) Robert Louis Wilken. The religious life of the university is, however, “passive,” according to one student. “Religion is considered merely an opinion by most, which is itself insulting, but that also means it’s mostly a taboo to speak negatively of it.”
ft rating: academic 35.9,
social 33.0, religious 20.6
One of just three all-male liberal-arts colleges left in the nation, Wabash is not as traditional or conservative as that might suggest. Although few chose Wabash for religious reasons, the students perceive the student body as being more religious than not. Wabash men are studious: They study almost thirty hours a week. One fraternity requires freshmen members to observe set study hours that total 9.5 hours a day, and many members continue to observe those hours until they graduate.
Most Wabash students describe themselves as sexually active, which suggests enterprise at an all-male school in a small town. While alcohol use is relatively high, tobacco use is moderate (most students chew or dip rather than smoke, one student reports). Drug use is relatively low.
Faculty are largely respectful of religion, although a few reportedly are given to mocking faith in the classroom. They average out as politically moderate in the student evaluations, although that may be because, as one student writes, they are “quite divided” and “either very conservative or very liberal.”
St. Louis, Missouri
ft rating: academic 40.7,
social 32.6, religious 12.1
As yet another school that wants “to encourage faculty and students to be bold, independent, and creative thinkers” (a line that is about as unbold, unindependent, and uncreative as one can imagine), Washington University is socially, religiously, and academically typical.
“Old-school hippies (as in, they burned things to protest Vietnam) run most departments,” a student reports. “The student body likes to think of itself as socially liberal, but they’re all just repressed Republicans.” Religion is, for the most part, respected in academic and student life, although, says another student, “anthropology rips the Christian religion hard.”
Not really much worth going for here: no identity, no character, and no flair.
ft rating: academic 36.3,
social 35.3, religious 9.7
In 1829 Captain Alden Partridge relocated his American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, leaving the town of Middletown with college grounds and no college. The New York Methodist Episcopal conference obliged the college-starved townspeople and, in 1831, opened Wesleyan Academy on the grounds of the old military academy. In its early years, Wesleyan maintained something of a military atmosphere in their code of conduct, with chapel beginning at dawn.
But mandatory chapel was cut from Wesleyan in the 1960s, at the same time the school stopped defining the curriculum as “Christian.” Today, students report, the Wesleyan student body of nearly three thousand undergrads is not religious at all. Students seem ambivalent about the atmosphere of the campus; some describe the religious presence on the campus as “strong and vibrant,” while others disagree.
One recent alumna described the student body as “very Jewish.” This formerly Methodist school is, in fact, in the “Top 60 Schools Jews Choose” and in the “Top 20 by Percentage of Jews,” according to the magazine Reform Judaism. Serving Wesleyan’s six hundred or so Jewish students are the umbrella organization Havurah and a campus rabbi. In 2008, after a two-year hiatus (and some pushing from students) Catholics at Wesleyan were once again given a Catholic chaplain.
Students report that faculty generally tolerate orthodox views, although those students who found the community the most tolerant were also those who were the least religious. Students overwhelmingly agree that administration, faculty, and students can be placed quite comfortably in a box to the left. The school is, in fact, well known for its liberal bent and proves the adage that “like attracts like.” Students at Wesleyan are also well known for their activism, and the school boasts a dizzying array of activist organizations (helpfully divided into such categories as “social” activism and “health / sexuality” activism) from which students can choose.
And students at Wesleyan are as libertine as they are liberal.
Santa Barbara, California
ft rating: academic 28.4,
social 35.1, religious 32.6
A small liberal-arts college in “the worldwide evangelical Protestant tradition,” Westmont had the good sense to get out of Los Angeles in 1945. It now rests in the idyllic foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Most students are quite religious, and, for many, faith played an important role in their decision to attend. “There is a good balance of people that are zealous with those that could care less,” reports one sophomore. All students are required to attend chapel three days a week and are encouraged to attend services at their own churches on Sundays.
Although students say orthodox religious views are respected in the classroom, the school will not hire Catholics to teach, and some students claim that both students and some faculty insult Catholicism.
Westmont students identify themselves, the faculty, and the administration as fairly middle of the road but listing a little to the right when it comes to socio-political views. Although alcohol is prohibited on campus and at all Westmont-sponsored activities, students still do drink a bit. Tobacco is forbidden.
ft rating: academic 35,
social 47.2, religious 48.0.
Wheaton College is an evangelical liberal-arts college in the suburbs of Chicago—and one of the most religious nondenominational Protestant institutions in America. The majority of Wheaton students are evangelicals drawn there by its Christian identity and “top-notch academics.” This makes sense, as everyone on campus, including faculty, must sign a statement of faith that professes “The Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins.”
Politically and religiously, Wheaton’s students are fairly conservative, although the faculty is moderately liberal, making for an interesting classroom dynamic. One student writes that Wheaton “actually made my faith more nuanced and discerning—I think I would have become much more reactionary, fundamentalist, or anti-intellectual if I had gone to a college not receptive toward my faith.”
Wheaton students study heavily, and the campus is dry and drug free. Students say some students—part of a subculture known as the “Wheaton underground”—do drink and engage in sexual activities but do so “way, way off campus” to avoid getting caught or reported, as everyone is bound to adhere to school policies that threaten offenders with expulsion even if their transgressions take place off campus.
Wheaton offers great academics and a hospitable environment for the seriously religious. If a Wheaton education stirs your heart for religious conversion, however, it had better be to Protestantism. Joshua Hochschild, an assistant professor of philosophy, was dismissed in 2005 after his conversion to Catholicism.
College of William & Mary
ft rating: academic 38,
social 33.7, religious 16.3
With fiercely loyal alumni, William & Mary exemplifies the challenges that face any institution with sympathetic ties to traditional beliefs. A recent W&M president, embarking on “diversity reform,” precipitated a public outcry when he ordered the cross removed from the altar of the college chapel. Virginia is not Massachusetts, and traditional sentiments won the day. The president was forced to resign.
The outcome typifies circumstances at William & Mary and many other public institutions in socially conservative parts of the country. Students come with a wide array of religious and political beliefs, but a large block is conservative. By contrast, faculty and administration reflect progressive ideologies. One W&M student expressed exasperation, describing the administrators as “all pinkos,” constantly trying to remake the school in their own image.
Still, William & Mary is a place where a faithful student can find support from peers, even if not from the academic programs.
ft rating: academic 43.2,
social 31.7, religious 11.1
Williams College students find themselves in a dark, dark wood just a few miles from the Clarksburg State Forest and the Green Mountain National Forest—not to mention the school’s own Hopkins Memorial Forest. They stand beneath a steep Hill’s side: Mount Greylock, whose dread pierces them to the heart-root deep.
And the right road may have been wholly lost. Williams College never had any religious affiliation, but chapel service was mandatory for students until 1962. It’s no longer required, but students report that the student body today is still a fairly religious lot, and the ministries available to them remain vibrant. Not that faith is respected in the classroom. As one student explained, “My philosophy professors did more than once contrast Christian / religious thought with ‘modern’ thought, implying that religion, like believing the earth is flat, is not to be taken seriously in the modern world.”
Williams students spend close to twenty-five hours a week studying. They’re also fairly involved in intramurals and clubs that range from the Anti-Gravity Society (not astronauts, just jugglers) to the Chocolate Appreciation Society. Drinking is fairly prevalent among students, as is the hookup culture. It was, in fact, the Williams dorms—particularly the coed bathrooms—that led alumna Wendy Shalit to write A Return to Modesty, a book on chastity. In a speech she gave at Hillsdale College, Shalit explained: “Like many enlightened colleges and universities these days, Williams houses boys next to girls in its dormitories and then has the students vote by floor on whether their common bathrooms should be coed. . . . When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I ‘must not be comfortable with [my] body.’ Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about.”
Wyoming Catholic College
ft rating: academic [insufficient data],
social [insufficient data], religious 40.1
Founded in 2007, Wyoming Catholic College is America’s newest upstart Catholic liberal-arts college. The school has a small campus in rural Wyoming and offers its students a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.
The school is much too young for us to rate either academically or socially (you have to have a culture before your culture can be described), but its students are very religious, Catholic, and homeschooled. They report that they chose Wyoming Catholic because, as one says, “I wanted to go to a college where I could pursue the unadulterated Truth through my studies, and develop myself as a whole human being—without having to compromise any part of my Catholic faith.” Most students, faculty, members of the administration, and their families attend Mass, the rosary, and adoration together; students report that they find this “inspiring,” and that it contributes to “authentic joy and fervor.”
The school’s curriculum focuses on classics of Western civilization. As a student says, “The study of the ancients is a conservative study. We have a deep love of the tradition of the faith and the tradition of Western civilization.” Students and faculty are overwhelmingly traditional and very conservative. Traditional views not only are respected but also are fostered because all faculty are “required to respect the Church, and most are traditional Catholics anyway.” In the classroom all topics are discussed thoughtfully, and discussions tend to turn on “understanding what and why we believe what we believe as Catholics.”
Students must adhere to the guidelines of the student handbook, which prohibits alcohol. It allows smoking and the dipping of chewing tobacco.
New Haven, Connecticut
ft rating: academic 47.1,
social 31.2, religious 15.2
According to students, Yalies are not particularly religious. The environment is, they say, “fairly secular,” and the most antireligious of any Ivy League school. As one student explained, “There is a distinct presumption that any given person is an atheist or agnostic unless demonstrated otherwise.”
Interestingly, this is not that different from a description of the student body two centuries ago. According to “A History of Religion at Yale” provided by the university chaplaincy, “between 1795 and 1802, less than ten percent of the student body professed religion openly.” This period was, however, followed by that of the second Great Awakening. One can only hope Yale’s history continues to follow this pattern.
For students who do profess some faith, Yale has several ministries. The University Church at Yale is an ecumenical Christian church that boasts on its website that it is “student-oriented.” For those who prefer a Christ-oriented church, there is an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and, for Catholics, the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel. (Many Catholic students prefer the Dominican-run St. Mary’s, just a few minutes’ walk from campus.) For Jewish students there is the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
Students report that while the student body, faculty, and administration are all fairly liberal, the administration is slightly more conservative. As proof of this, one student offers an anecdote of the administration’s conservative approach to policy: Gender-neutral housing was approved only this year. One self-described atheist student explains that “there is little tolerance” for orthodox religious views.
New York, New York
ft rating: academic 30.1,
social 35.9, religious 39.0
With the motto Torah Umadda (“Torah and secular knowledge”), Yeshiva is America’s foremost Jewish institution of higher learning. True to its name, Yeshiva is a completely Jewish school, heavily Orthodox, with a serious emphasis on the Judaic studies that are required in the curriculum and give the school its religious identity. Nearly all students report that they chose Yeshiva for their faith. Most practice their faith and participate in the Shabbat and Jewish holidays, although one student estimates that there is an active minority that is only culturally religious.
In terms of student life, Yeshiva is not a big party school. Alcohol and drugs are almost nonexistent, and students take their classes very seriously, studying upwards of thirty hours or more per week. Students report that they are not sexually active, even though the city of New York and all its allures are only a short subway ride away.
Yeshiva students and faculty are predominantly conservative and pro-Israel and place a special emphasis on conservative Jewish theology. Students also warn that Yeshiva is not a good place to come to for the liberal arts unless one is happy to spend a significant portion of one’s time in Judaic studies.