In the Billy Graham Center on Oct. 30, 2014 the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals presented its final panel. The public was invited to attend free of charge to hear about ISAE’s history and several panel topics relating to evangelicalism.
Officially established in 1982, ISAE was formed by scholars who shared similar passions for exploring American evangelical history. According to Larry Eskridge, associate director of the institute and guest professor of history, the mission of ISAE has focused on advocating the study of the history of evangelicalism by organizing grants, education and events on campus. Heading into the last two months of ISAE’s existence, Eskridge believed that its labor was not in vain, seeing that evangelicals now had a point of reference and self-conception for their faith.
It was announced last spring that the ISAE would be closed and moved to the Wheaton College archives and special collections on Jan. 1, 2015. Wheaton alumnus and former professor Mark A. Noll hoped that Wheaton College would continue to do the good work it had done in the past, noting the many groups and organizations that exist on campuses today because of the innovative work of ISAE.
Interim Chaplain Dave McDowell said that ISAE forced higher education no longer to view American evangelicalism as second class thought and instead to take the demographic seriously. He believed that the initial work by the scholars of ISAE is being passed on to the next generation of scholars today.
Mark Hutchinson, dean of humanites and academic projects at the Scots College at the University of Sydney, felt that no organization had previously attempted to undertake ISAE’s mission, calling ISAE “pioneering.”
For the ISAE’s final event, professor of history Edith Blumhofer hosted a packed audience inside Barrows Auditorium last Thursday evening and presented a brief video showcasing the history of ISAE. A panel titled “A Movement for the 21st Century: The Future of Evangelicalism” followed. Its topics included emigration of the Church from the Middle East, the new face of Russian evangelicals, cultural penetration of society by evangelical resources, new fields of study dealing with relationships between evangelicals and mainline protestants and the capitalist economy.
The panelists were David Bebbington, a distinguished visiting professor of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Nathan O. Hatch, president of Wake Forest University in North Carolina; Hutchinson; and Noll.
Audience members found the panel both thoughtful and engaging. Senior Abby Bullmore was impressed with the lecture and praised the featured ISAE scholars for their dedication to the spiritual and intellectual well-being of evangelicalism.
Hutchinson spoke of ISAE’s ability to welcome people from all over the world in the evangelical sphere. He commented in the panel discussion that ISAE’s name was misleading, noting the British, German, Central American and New Zealand connections that had helped to make ISAE a global organization. This, he believed, gave Wheaton College a good reputation internationally.
Senior Teddy Stocking said he knew little about the work of ISAE prior to the event. However, he said he came away from the panel with some sadness knowing that ISAE is scheduled to close at the end of this year. He felt that the institute was underappreciated by the student body, noting the lack of protest when the college announced ISAE’s closing. Stocking praised ISAE scholars for their intellectual brilliance and celebrated how much work they had done not just for evangelicals but for the academic community itself.