Experiments in Religion: Robert Park, Ellsworth Faris, and the Disciples of Christ in Chicago

Daniel Huebner, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The predominant narrative about the classic “Chicago School” period (1920s-1930s) of the University of Chicago Sociology Department is that, under the leadership of Robert E. Park, there was a definitive shift away from religiously-motivated reform and toward a professionalized social science. But if so, how did Park get to the point that his final journal article (in the flagship Chicago-affiliated American Journal of Sociology no less) claimed that religious missions held the key to solving the “race problem” (Park 1944), and why did Park sponsor the “Park House” youth center run by University of Chicago divinity students from 1929 until near the end of his life, a move that reportedly baffled his friends who thought he detested “do-goodism”? In order to answer this question, this paper documents a large number of cross-connections between the Sociology Department and religious education and reform at the University of Chicago throughout this period. I focus specifically on a previously unrecognized institutional nexus centered at the University of Chicago that brought together sociologists, religious ministers and missionaries, and other liberal-minded social reformers throughout this period: the Disciples Divinity House, the University Church Disciples of Christ, and the affiliated Campbell Institute. The paper shows how Park and Ellsworth Faris, the department’s chairman from 1925 to 1936, became involved in religious organizations in Chicago prior to either being hired as sociology faculty members; how they remained involved in a number of endeavors involving religious scholars and institutions over the years; and how many of their students were directly tied to religious institutions. Although some recent scholarship has drawn new attention to the religious ties of the Chicago School, no work has emphasized the centrality of the Disciples of Christ institutions – in which leading faculty figures and many students participated.

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 Presented in Session 140. Reflexivity, Ethics, and Translations in the History of Social Science