Date of Award


Access Restriction

Research Projects

Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Nancy Pineda-Madrid


The purpose of this research paper is to analyze a historical, theological subject concerning the rationale for the transition from a Puritanical view of God at Harvard in the early seventeenth century to a Utilitarian perspective in the first part of the nineteenth century. The Puritans had a profound effect on Harvard, bringing with them severe discipline and an authoritarian view of God. As a result, many of the first Harvard students left the college never to return,[1] and the school had significant difficulties in maintaining an enrollment in its early years. Puritanism viewed students as being essentially depraved and only allowed to live by the grace of God. The Cambridge community portrayed the Lord as being an almost heartless, judgmental father, whose main concern was the discipline of the wayward children. This perspective led to regular beatings, cruelty, and a lack of concern for scholarship that encouraged the pursuit of multiple points of view.

However with the coming of Romanticism and Unitarianism to Massachusetts in the early part of the nineteenth century, there was an emerging, change in the nature of truth with respect to God. The people envisioned the Lord, as a kindly parent, who was primarily concerned with the happiness of the individual and the community. With this perspective came a drastically different view of theology, wherein all points of view had to be examined and understood. The rigidity of Puritanism gave way to the more liberal Unitarianism, and God became part of a joyous experience of living.

This paper examines the change that occurred at Harvard with respect to the University’s view of God and its impact on the academic curricula. It considers the reasons for the charge and the view of the students, faculty, and administration. It a analyzes how changes within a community can have a profound influence on changes within a college, and it provides a basis for academic freedom that is the basis for academic freedom—a concept that was alien to the Puritans. The key question is whether it has been successful in shaping the development of academia or whether it has caused more chaos than success?

[1] George M. Marsden. The Soul of the American University (Oxford: Oxford, 1994) 33-5.

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