Evangelical Scholarship and Elite Schools

Some time back Anthony Bradley asked the question of whether any doctoral graduates of evangelical institutions (e.g. Fuller, Southern, TEDS, Westminster, Wheaton) taught at Ivy League schools. Bradley’s question was rhetorical – of course they don’t, because those degrees aren’t worth as much. I decided to look into this and found that Bradley’s assumption is largely correct.

I looked at the divinity schools, seminaries, and department of religions for all of the Ivy League schools, plus American schools that typically rank in the top ~50 universities globally for religion and the humanities. Some, like Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, MIT, and the University of Michigan didn’t have relevant faculty or departments. Others, like Columbia and Princeton, used neighboring seminaries (Union and Princeton, respectively). There was a lot of cross-pollination (inbreeding?) between the top schools, among the Ivy League especially. The more elite the school, the more uniform was its faculty. The more explicitly theological the school (e.g. Duke, Princeton) the more institutional diversity was present among its faculty.

There was a single faculty member of these schools with a doctorate from an evangelical institution (at Duke, from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – a professor of Baptist studies). Below I outline a couple of overlapping theories of why. I also list out the schools and faculty with any master’s degree from evangelical institutions. I didn’t do a deep dive in the CVs of the faculty, and didn’t really look at undergraduate degrees, but I did notice a handful of Calvin, Messiah, and Wheaton BAs. Non-elite, non-evangelical schools that were represented with graduate and doctoral degrees that surprised me included quite a few graduates from the Claremont School, a decent number from Candler/Emory, and a handful from Baylor, Temple, and Vanderbilt.

One absence that surprised me was British schools. Evangelical universities and seminaries, especially Reformed ones, have a large cadre of faculty from Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, and Oxford. There were relatively few faculty with degrees from these schools, and most were specialists in British or European areas. The more elite the school, the more American it was. This was also true for representation from other European universities; yet, Eastern and Asian theology and universities were much more represented among schools, especially those that focused on general religious studies rather than divinity schools or seminaries. My suspicion is that i) There is a pro-American sentiment, anti-British bias, at play here in a WASPy sort of way, ii) American doctoral programs have a different approach to classroom education compared to Europe, and perhaps there’s an elite and haughty sense that European programs are less qualified, iii) American Protestant theology and heritage is seen to be covering the same ground as the British, and so UK professors are redundant, iv) British degrees are easier to earn (see point ii) for Americans than Ivy League degrees, but carry a sense of prestige, and so evangelical institutions over-value them, v) Many British and European doctorates don’t require residency or classroom work, and so are appealing for evangelical pastors currently in ministry. The high pastor-professor connection in evangelical schools may mean that British degrees are more likely to show up, and vi) For a variety of reasons it is easier in British schools to do research from a expressly Christian vantage point, which is appealing to evangelicals who don’t want to set aside their faith in order to do scholarship.

So why the dearth of evangelical professors?

Unqualified. This is what Bradley was getting at: That doctorates from elite evangelical institutions are low quality, and don’t actually prepare graduates for scholarship at the same level as truly elite schools. I suspect that this would be the main reason provided by administrators at these schools.

Anti-Evangelical Bias. This is what evangelicals would say, of course. That liberal, secular, ecumenical, and mainline institutions unfairly believe that evangelicals are too conservative and fundamentalist to be qualified scholars and so don’t give them a fair shake. There’s truth to this: I had seminary professors with doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Durham, Georg–August Universität, and Duke, to name but a few. Many evangelical institutions have similar faculty; that would imply that the students being prepared are on roughly the same caliber as their elite counterparts. Westminster Seminary’s faculty can hold its own with Princeton’s, yet Westminster graduates are virtually absent from elite schools while Princeton Seminary’s are well represented at every single one. So why no evangelical professors in the Ivies? Bias.

Compatibility. Evangelical institutions are preparing doctoral candidates from a drastically different set of educational values than the Ivy League. It’s not that the quality and scholarship of evangelical doctorates is necessarily less than elite schools, but that they are trained for an end (doxological, ecclesiological) that is just not a good fit for the instructional approach in the Ivies. Many evangelicals pursue doctoral studies in order to teach pastors or other Christians in the knowledge of the faith, which isn’t the objective of elite schools. Evangelical scholars are less likely to apply, and those that do are less likely to be a good fit. I did notice some professors at these schools who seemed personally evangelical without evangelical credentials, but I also observed that the large majority of professors with evangelical credentials did not appear to be personally evangelical.

Insularity. Harvard was easily the most represented school among all the faculties that I searched. Harvard degrees carry prestige, and schools want the prestige. Why hire someone from Wheaton when you can hire someone from Harvard? Evangelical institutions are already asking these questions, and for the Ivy League that’s an easy answer. Will Stanford garner more respect by hiring faculty from Yale or TEDS? There is little benefit to the Ivy League to hire an evangelical scholar when one of their own is available.

  • Elite schools with 0 evangelical graduate degrees on faculty: Brown, Cornell, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, UPenn.
  • Elite schools with 1 evangelical graduate degree on faculty: The University of Chicago (MA, Gordon-Conwell), Dartmouth (MDiv, Trinity International), Harvard (M.A.R., Westminster Seminary), Rutgers (MA, Wheaton), UT-Austin (M.Div, Fuller Seminary).
  • Columbia: MDiv (Southern Baptist Theological), MA (Trinity International), MA (Hardin-Simmons).
  • Princeton: MA (Calvin College), MDiv (Trinity International), MA (Wheaton).
  • UC-Berkeley: MA (Fuller Seminary), MDiv (Calvin Seminary), MDiv (Fuller Seminary), MDiv (Westminster Seminary).
  • Duke: M.Div (Southwestern Baptist Seminary), MDiv & Ph.D (Southern Baptist Seminary), M.T.S. (Regent College), M.Div (Trinity International), M.Div (TEDS).
  • Yale: MDiv (Gordon Conwell), MDiv (Fuller Seminary), MA (TEDS), MA (Pepperdine University), MA (Fuller Seminary).