Nature and Revelation is an absorbing history of Macalester College, from its origins as a Presbyterian secondary school in frontier St. Paul to its current presence as a nationally prominent liberal arts college. Detailing the college’s history, Jeanne Halgren Kilde tells stories of the college’s influential leaders, its defining moments, its rapidly changing student life, and the sometimes controversial evolution of the school’s curriculum and reputation, exploring its transformation from a modest evangelical college into a progressive, secular institution.
By highlighting the college’s balancing act between nature and revelation—between the pursuit of empirical knowledge and religious conviction—Kilde traces the impact of changing perceptions of religion and education over Macalester’s more than century-long history. As once-religious colleges gradually shed their church ties and negotiated tensions between religious, vocational, and liberal arts missions, they both mirrored and affected the development of education and the trajectory of American Protestantism itself. Placing Macalester College in a national context, Kilde explores the cultural, political, and pedagogical challenges and shifts experienced by most U.S. institutions of higher education during this turbulent period.
While so doing, Kilde uncovers a number of little-known aspects of the college’s history and explores the facts behind such persistent Mac myths as whether its most generous supporter, Reader’s Digest founder DeWitt Wallace, actually coaxed a cow into a college building as an undergraduate or later terminated his financial support of the college in objection to what he considered its leftist political sympathies, or whether the college’s initiative to attract minority students during the 1970s drove its operating budget into an enormous deficit. An enlightening and rich history, Nature and Revelation documents Macalester College’s unique story and reveals its significance to higher education and religion in the United States.