Theology and the University: A Lover’s Quarrel

“A professorship of theology should have no place in our institution,” Thomas Jefferson declared in a letter written to philosopher Thomas Cooper in 1814. These words uttered by America’s third President, regarding his plans to found the University of Virginia, echo a standard Enlightenment principle: theology and the university do not mix. Jefferson shared this premise with the universities and academies of Paris, where theology was banished to the fringes of history, philosophy, and classics. For Jefferson and his Parisian compatriots, the future would be free of religion — and of the privilege and pettiness that it introduced into society. The university would be this future’s breeding ground.