How Duke University lost its religion

“Trinity, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a small Methodist college with strict rules governing student conduct, required daily chapel attendance and college-sponsored annual revivals. As the school expanded [and was renamed for benefactor James B. Duke], students began  to engage in more and more extracurricular and social affairs, student self-government took over the burden of overseeing campus discipline and the religious orientation and enthusiasm of students declined markedly. The YMCA  lost its once central position to become an object of barely veiled contempt….

“In 1924 the editor of the Chronicle noted the general indifference to religion that marked an undergraduate’s life: ‘Someday he may settle down to the pew and the prayerbook, the prayer meeting and the Sunday sermon. But not now. Life is too sweet and too short….’

“Religion had become an encumbrance to students at Trinity-Duke.  Revivals were officially suspended in 1927 and required chapel exercises significantly reduced.”

– From “The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s” by Paula S. Fass (1977)

One thought on “How Duke University lost its religion”

  1. When I went to Duke as a freshman in 1973, my mother, also a Duke graduate, was HORRIFIED to find proning on the lawn – which is of course laying out on the grass. Also, she was SHOCKED that I did not have to have white gloves, a beanie, and a navy blazer. She bought me the only evening gown I have ever owned, when those type of parties had disappeared with malts and panty raids. She was much more shocked by that, than by my african american new jersey roommate, or the condom and birth control information that was on each of our beds.

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