I Hart Lyle Spencer

I want to shout it from the rooftops. I love this man!

Mr. Spencer, I Love You.

Mr. Spencer, I Love You.

Thanks to his Spencer Foundation, I’ll be able to spend the next year traveling to archives to research my new book. My grant from the Spencer Foundation will fund my trips to a variety of evangelical colleges. I’m looking forward to diving into the world-class collection at the Billy Graham Center Archives, for example.

My goal in this book is to explore the history of evangelical higher education in the twentieth century. What did schools such as Wheaton College, Bob Jones University, Biola University, Bryan College, John Brown University, and a host of others hope to teach their students? Most interesting, since the emergence of “fundamentalism” in the 1920s, how did these colleges try to teach their students what it meant to be an evangelical Christian in a rapidly secularizing America?

Naturally, these questions changed over time. In the 1920s, for example, the first decade of “fundamentalism,” evangelists and evangelical intellectuals struggled to define what it meant to be a “fundamentalist.” For Bob Jones, it meant eschewing many of the outward trappings of modern life as well as cultivating a Bible-first way of knowledge. For President Blanchard of Wheaton College, it meant more of a theological steadfastness.

By the late 1940s, the world of conservative evangelicalism had changed radically. I want to explore the ways these changes emerged on evangelical campuses. What would it mean for a family in 1950 to choose to send their sons or daughters to “evangelical” Wheaton instead of “fundamentalist” Bob Jones? Or to Biola instead of one of the growing crop of non-religious colleges, including my own beloved Binghamton University (founded 1948)?

Each new generation offers new topics. Moving into the late 1960s, conservative colleges experienced a very different “Sixties.” I’m interested in exploring the ways evangelical students and faculty developed a counter-counter-culture. And in the late 1970s, the emergence of a “New Christian Right” in mainstream American politics was both fueled and influenced by developments in evangelical higher education.

Central to all these investigations will be the experience of students and faculty at evangelical colleges. Luckily, the archives of all these schools have rich collections of their own students’ experiences. At the Billy Graham Center Archives, a host of oral history interviews also tracks the school memories of evangelicals from across the decades.

Thanks to the Spencer Foundation, I’ll be able to devote the next year to full-time research. For readers who are unaware of the Foundation, it is the best thing going in education research. I’m not saying that only because of my generous grant. Every academic knows about the Spencer Foundation’s programs, including its dissertation fellowship and its postdoctoral fellowship. In my case, a postdoc from the Spencer Foundation and National Academy of Education allowed me to complete two books, my 1920s book and my upcoming one about educational conservatism in the twentieth century.

So I say it with unabashed enthusiasm: I Love Lyle!


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  1. I grew up in a fundamentalist tradition, and I came of age in the 60s and 70s. This book that you are researching will definitely be a must-read for me! I’d love to see you explore the history of Philadelphia Biblical University, now known as Cairn University. It was the backbone of the fundamentalist theology in my church. It was one of the top go-to schools here in the Mid-Atlantic states. Its growth and many changes have been remarkable. (The school was founded to be a Bible college only.)

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