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Religious Life as an Undergraduate
David Brown, Alum
Columbia College 1958

As an undergraduate (1954-58) I went to services, including a few at St. Paul's (at one, Billy Graham waved his gilt-edged Bible and impressed my friends who were interested in theater), some at Union Seminary's chapel (wherein Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich preached in terms that BG did not use), Riverside (where Virgil Fox was the organist), and occasionally downtown (Broadway Congregational, in particular). I also studied philosphy of religion with John A. Hutchinson, took part in the University Christian Association, and attended the World Student Christian Federation quadrennial in Athen, Ohio, when I was a sophomore. I was the only person there from Columbia. D. T. Niles, Leslie Newbigen and other leaders of the ecumenical church at that time were major influences. In 1958, I wrote a paper for a senior English seminar with Charles A. Everett on the religious poetry of John Henry Newman, who tried hard to articulate faith in intellectually honest ways, which was something I was trying to do, too. (I went on to Yale Divinity School, from which I earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1961, but that's another story.) Columbia of course included many students who represented in my mind unfamiliar religious viewpoints: Mormons from Utah, a wide variety of Jews (including a classmate who became a Rebbe), and a lot of secular liberals who didn't see the point of traditional religion. However, I'd say that my defining religious experience as an undergraduate was reading Hannah Arendt for CCB: she finished off any doubt as to the nature of human beings and the need for a transcendent referent and corrective. I don't suppose that "Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government," "The Concentration Camps" and the Graebe Memorandum struck every sophomore the same way, but for me the readings meant that the "perfectability of humankind" was an example of unrealistic liberal optimism. I thought Niebuhr's terms of "Moral Man and Immoral Society" made more sense.

Having said all this, I wonder if there'll be a chance to see comments from other alums who have responded to your invitation.

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