The United States of America was birthed as a Christian nation. Consequently, numerous schools, universities, programs, and institutions have been established. Over the years, however, there have been various shifts in beliefs and ideals. In light of this, I will be explaining the theology of Harvard.
What Is Harvard’s Theology? Harvard’s theology began as that of the Puritans. However, today, Harvard has lost much of its faith-based ideals. It has become more of a secular university. It remains a prestigious university that trains individuals for all realms of life. Yet, the purpose behind it now isn’t the same as it once was.
This blog gives the theological history of Harvard University. It also displays the progression of Harvard over the years. Using information directly from Harvard’s website, I am listing and explaining their current views and beliefs. This draws a comparison from the original intention of the university and what it is today.
Harvard University Theological History
Harvard University is typically what people think of when they hear the term “Harvard.” This is rightly so because Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States of America. It was founded in 1636. Although it is not as publicly stated today, Harvard began as a Christian university. At the time, it was devoted to training people in all areas of life to bring the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Puritans were the reason that this school came into existence. The Puritans had a crucial history of leaving the Roman Catholic Church. Their primary purpose was to cleanse the Anglican Church of all Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, they reformed much of the church. They had four major beliefs, Calvinism, postmillennialism, theonomy, and congregationalism.
These four beliefs were the basis on which Harvard was started. Puritans especially believed that preachers and pastors should be the most educated individuals in society. They believed this because they placed authority and responsibility on the pastor to care for the entire community.
They hoped that by educating Christians on a high level, they would be prepared to stand against heresy, and non-Biblical views (in their opinion). In addition, they sought to rule the land through Biblical ideals. They believed this was the answer to solving much of the problems in the world. I will expand a bit more one the four major beliefs to help you understand the roots of Harvard.
Four Major Beliefs
These four major beliefs were the building blocks of Harvard. It is important to understand these views in order to understand Harvard. However, I will also explain how these views have been neglected and left over the years.
- Calvinism – The main vein of Calvinism is that God has an unconditional election and predestination. This sits on the glory and sovereignty of God. It has been said that the Calvinism of today does not correctly reflect the Calvinism of that time. Today, Calvinist believe that God chooses who can and who cannot be saved.
- Post-Millennialism – Post-Millennialism states that the world is progressing and improving. Eventually, it will hit a “golden age”, also known as the “millennium” stated in Revelation 20. This age will be ruled predominately b Christians. Through Christians, Christ will reign on earth. As a result, the majority of the world will be Christians. Then, societies will live according to the ideals of the Bible.
- Theonomy – Theonomy professes that Christians should set up a theocracy in all realms. The Bible is then used to govern all the laws for all nations and cultures. This is based on the Old Testament laws, as well as the New Testament. The exact laws may not be used. Instead, the principles behind them would.
- Congregationalism – Congregationalism is a personal government on a smaller scale. There is an overall government, yet all congregations have their own rights. They are able to vote for their own Pastors and govern their own local congregation. The taxes from each community would be given back to the community in which they were taken. This was done in a democratic and pluralistic manner.
Learn more about Puritan Theology, here.
Original Reason for Establishing Harvard
The original reason for establishing Harvard is best explained in the following quote by the founders. This was written in 1636 at the General Court of Massachusets Bay Colony. The study of theology began at Harvard University. Today, the theological study is sanctioned into its own school, namely, Harvard Divinity School. While theology is still connected to Harvard, it is much different than the original intent.
The God that these founders were speaking of was the God in the Bible. They were Christians and believed explicitly in Jesus Christ. They were not universalists. Rather, they were wholehearted in the pursuit of the God of the Bible. They took the teachings, laws, and commands of Biblical scripture very seriously.
In 1816, Harvard Divinity School explained its purpose to ensure that “every encouragement be given to the serious, impartial, and unbiased investigation of Christian truth.”
This is compared to what Harvard Divinity expresses now. In their own words, they state, “two centuries later, the concerns of the founders of Harvard continue to guide the Divinity School, but within a much enlarged and broadened sense of mission.” This concept of “enlarged” and “broadened” that the institution states will be further explained in the next section.
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard University has branched out with Harvard Divinity School. The Divinity School is nonsectarian, meaning it is not related to one religious or political group. Instead, it is open and available to those who have a wide array of religious and political backgrounds. Simply put, Harvard is no longer a Christian university.
The following quote is placed front and center on the website of the Divinity School. It makes a bold statement that many of the founders of Harvard would be wary of.
The Divinity school educates in the academic study of religion. It prepares students for leadership in service organizations that can be religious, governmental, or neither. Harvard places a strong emphasis on humanitarian type aid and other realms of impact in society. It does not hold to one singular view. Rather, it has changed from strictly Puritan beliefs to accommodate contrary beliefs.
Harvard Divinity exists to “educate students of religion for intellectual leadership, professional service, and ministry.” Moreover, their vision is “to provide an intellectual home where scholars and professionals from around the globe research and teach the varieties of religion, in service of a just world at peace across religious and cultural divides” (derived directly from the Harvard Divinity website).
Harvard Divinity states its guiding principles. These rest heavily on critical thinking and analysis, diversity, multiple disciplines, and a deep understanding of more than one religion.
Some of the events hosted by Harvest Divinity include conferences or services. These are about The Puritans, Islamic Education, Religious Freedom, Unitarian Universalist Ministry, Sitting Meditation, Presbyterian Worship, Episcopal, and Anglican Fellowship.
Learn more about Harvard Divinity School, here.
Harvard’s Beliefs Today
Harvard has gone through many transitions. The following beliefs are stated and supported on Harvard’s website. This is not an extensive list of beliefs, however, they are some of the main ones.
- Universalism – Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School both advocate for a wider scale of belief. Meaning, they welcome and encourage various religions and beliefs.
- Scholarship – Scholarship, personal application, and critical thinking are strong ideals. Students should be scholarly and acquire a high level of learning.
- Leadership – Leadership is a value that encourages the development of students in all realms of society.
- Inclusive Community – Harvard’s community welcomes all types of diversity, especially religious diversity.
- Ecological Sustainability & Environmental Stewardship – Harvard works to sustain, protect, and promote the environment and the natural world.
- Science – Harvard believes strongly in science and uses science in many of its projects, classes, degrees, and endeavors.
Learn more about Harvard University, here.
Why it Matters
The theology of Harvard matters because it is impacting the religious, social, and political realms. It is true that Harvard has been making positive impacts across the globe for human rights and the quality of life. This is a wonderful thing, especially in light of all the injustices and horrific occurrences in this world. I am very thankful for all that Harvard is doing concerning the value of human life and the planet.
However, this does bring some concern to those who strongly believe in one faith. For example, Christians believe in only one God. Harvard used to be a Christian school, yet now it is a universalist school. This is difficult since Christianity explicitly believes in one God alone. Likewise, Islam also believes in only one God.
Unity and community is a beautiful thing. Yet, in order for students to attend Harvard, they must leave behind some of their convictions and beliefs. Some Christians may find this concerning that the younger generation of Christians is being highly influenced by Universalism. Christianity simply cannot exist if it is also a Universalist religion. By definition of Christianity, this cannot co-exist.
Additionally, it is important to know what Harvard believes so that prospective students can ensure they are making the decision that is right for them. We live in a nation where religious freedom is highly valued. All individuals should have the right to choose who and what they will believe.
As a result, Harvard might not be the best place for devout Christians to serve and honor the Lord. They may be challenged or questioned to break the commandments in the Bible. It is helpful that they are aware of this before they attend.
Christians can still thrive at Harvard and glean from their programs. Harvard offers great business, medical, and law programs to say the least. However, we do not recommend that Christians attend Harvard seminary since it focuses on numerous religions. For Christians seeking to know only Christian theology, they would benefit from a Christian specific seminary.
This is not to say that it is wrong for Christians to go into settings that are not solely Christian. That would make it impossible for Christians to share the hope, faith, and love that they have received from Christ. Christians can attend Harvard to learn and grow and make an impact.