Together and by Association: The Legacy of James Luther Adams and the Future of Religious Colleges and Universities

John Richard Wilcox, Ph.D.


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Catholic higher education faces a crisis of identity as members of the founding religious communities continue to diminish in numbers in virtually all of these institutions. Critical to facing this challenge is the commitment of lay faculty and others to the future of Catholic education. Eliciting this commitment requires the transmission of a body of knowledge about Catholic culture and intellectual life as well as the heritage of the founding group.

This essay assesses James Luther Adams’ contribution to Catholic colleges and universities.  A Unitarian Universalist theologian and professor of Christian ethics at Harvard Divinity School, JLA thought with great deliberation abut the importance and longevity of what he terms voluntary associations.  What advice would Adams offer Catholic university presidents and others committed to the continuance of these institutions as Catholic? In answering that question I will use the Catholic university [an umbrella term inclusive of colleges] as the case study of a voluntary association, but much of what I write will apply equally to universities sponsored by mainline denominations and evangelical Christian institutions.


De La Salle Christian Brothers; Future of Catholic higher education; Founding congregation; James Luther Adams; Manhattan College; Mission Community; Unitarian Universalism; Voluntary association;

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