White Elephants on Campus: The Decline of the University Chapel in America, 1920–1960
Now available from the University of Notre Dame Press, 2014
In the twentieth century, the modern American university negotiated a new role for religion as science dominated intellectual life. In the book, White Elephants on Campus: The Decline of the University Chapel in America, 1920-1960, Margaret Grubiak uncovers the material manifestations of religion’s transformed role on campus in the twentieth century. Campus architecture and planning manifested a reimagining of religion as university leaders and architects attempted to maintain religion's relevance by enlisting chapels as advertisements, designing libraries and classroom buildings in the image of churches, and constructing smaller, modern, and ecumenical worship spaces. Despite such attempts to retain religion as a serious component of higher education, this project argues that by the mid-twentieth century religious architecture on the campus had become “white elephants,” beautiful, monumental buildings that nevertheless stood outside the central concerns of the modern American university.
White Elephants on Campus is a provocative and engaging look at the university campus chapel in the twentieth century. The author skillfully combines social, educational, religious, and architectural history to illuminate a phenomenon neglected both by scholars and its intended users.
— Peter W. Williams, emeritus, Miami University
In this important new book, Margaret Grubiak tells the fascinating story of how religion declined on twentieth-century American campuses and yet, at the same time, administrators persisted in building college chapels, including some of great size and striking architectural merit. This well-written and thoroughly researched account reveals much about American architecture but even more about the larger cultural retreat from Protestantism by the nation’s intellectual elites. We have long needed such a study, and Grubiak has done a masterful job in presenting it. — W. Barksdale Maynard, Princeton University