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.
Americans 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 dont 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, Asburys bylaws bind the school to the doctrinal standards of John Wesley and his first successors. But it is independent of any denomination and doesnt 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 doesnt 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 Dominos 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 students 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 Bards 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 didnt 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 schools 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 its still the place where the Texas Baptist Establishment goes to college.
Still, one recent graduate reports, Honestly, its 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 colleges 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 its 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 heres 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. Its 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, Its 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 youre entertaining thoughts of a religious vocation, youll 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 schools 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, Its 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 isnt 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. Its 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 Im after, without feeling pressured to actually be religious.
Political opinion is conventionally liberal. As a student notes, There were conservative students, Im 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 theres 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”BYUs 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 BYUs honor code, and students report that the vast majority of their peers respect that code. Partying isnt 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 didnt live with her, I wouldnt 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 Jerrys 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 schools 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 isnt 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. Thats not to say politically conservative students cant thrive there; many of them flourish in Berkeleys 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. Theres a sense among students that underneath the political activism and the schools 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 Berkeleys 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 arent 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, Michigan ft 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 departments 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 schools 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 schools 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 Universitys 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. Its 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 schools 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 its 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, thats 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. Youll 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 Americas 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 Americas Jesuit colleges, how deep the roots go isnt 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 isnt 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 isnt at open war with the Catholic Church.
University of Dallas
ft rating: academic 32.1,
social 35.4, religious 38.8
When the schools 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 schools 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 dont 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 dont make it into the top-ten lists”even, in this case, for the profusion of leaves on Dickinsons campus grounds. (If thats your desire, try Northwestern in October.) Drawing students from well-to-do East Coast households, Dickinson isnt 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 . Wolfes 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 universitys 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 nations 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 its 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 its 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 dont know what they want, GW will only fool them into thinking theyve 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 hasnt 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 schools 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 Americas 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 dont 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 Haverfords 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, its 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,