Separation of Psychology and Theology at Princeton, 1868-1903

Author: Maier, Bryan N.
It is well established that science in general and human science in particular gained both prestige and popularity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The new or experimental psychology was no exception. Only a few decades after its ‘origin date’ in 1879, experimental psychology became the dominant paradigm for psychology and maintained this dominance well into the twentieth century. How did Christians interested in human nature respond to this rapidly advancing understanding of human nature? Was their traditional Biblical understanding of people at risk or could the new psychology and the old theology come to some understanding?

Professor Bryan N. Maier begins to answer these questions, at least in part, by unfolding the intriguing story of how one influential Evangelical institution reacted to this new psychology. A case study of who taught psychology and how psychology was taught at Princeton College in the latter third of the nineteenth century reveals at least one way that Evangelicals attempted to resolve the relationship between their faith and this new human science. Professor Maier argues that in systemic terms, a temporary and fragile alliance was formed between the new science and the old theology. This alliance, represented by the personal and professional relationship between James McCosh and James Mark Baldwin, postponed the conflict through their generation but ultimately undermined the ability of Scripture to say anything authoritatively concerning human nature.


“There is a strong body of literature on the secularization of scholarship in nineteenth-century America. Led by the likes of George Marsden, James Turner and Christian Smith, scholars now know quite a bit about what Marsden calls the shift from Christian establishments to established non-belief ... The need today is for narrower studies on the effects of this transformation in the lives of individuals and their work in the disciplines – studies like this one by Dr. Maier on Princeton’s President James McCosh, Stuart Professor James Mark Baldwin, and their work in the fledgling discipline of psychology. I recommend this volume wholeheartedly ... Psychologists employed at today’s church-related colleges will appreciate Dr. Maier’s attempt to contextualize their work, helping them understand the historical significance of their efforts to ‘re-integrate’ their discipline with classical Christianity.” – (from the Foreword) Professor Douglas A. Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“This work represents an important contribution to scholarship in the history of American psychology, one that would be of special relevance to the growing interest in the relationship between science and religion in the late 19th century. It provides critical insights into our understanding of the shifting influences that formed American psychology at the turn of the century, primarily the replacing of moral philosophy with natural science as the foundation for the ‘new’ psychology ... This is a well-researched and engaging book, written by a scholar who succeeds at weaving together the historical, theological, and psychological dimensions of this compelling story. I hope this volume inspires psychologists to look critically at the historical development of their discipline.” – Professor Trey Buchanan, Wheaton College, Illinois

“Dr. Maier’s study of the history of psychology and religion at Princeton will serve scholars as well as an important case study that treats several fields of growing interest. Fittingly for a study of the history of the integration (or disintegration) of faith-and-learning, the work bridges several scholarly discourses: secularization studies, psychological theory, history, and theological foundations ... Dr. Maier joins other historians in finding orthodoxy complicit in the growth and eventual independence of science from religion ... The introduction draws the reader into the story, and the story itself is compellingly told. Its publication will make a real contribution to the literature.” – Professor Bradley J. Gundlach, Trinity College, Illinois

Table of Contents

Foreword by Douglas A. Sweeney
1. The History of the Alliance (James McCosh)
2. The Alliance Formed
3. The Alliance Weakened (James Mark Baldwin)
4. The Alliance Broken
5. Conclusion