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Chapels on campus seen from religious, architectural perspectives


This is the cover of "White Elephants on Campus: The Decline of the University Chapel in America,1920-1960" by Margaret M. Grubiak. The book is reviewed by Brian T. Olszewski. (CNS)

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"White Elephants on Campus: The Decline of the University Chapel in America,1920-1960" by Margaret M. Grubiak. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014). 184 pp., $28.

During the mid-1990s, while my oldest son was shopping for a college, we toured Washington University in St. Louis. There in the heart of the campus was Graham Chapel -- a stately edifice that could have been a European cathedral. Our guide informed us that it was used for concerts, lectures and plays. She did not mention it being a site for prayer and worship.

Graham Chapel isn't mentioned in Margaret M. Grubiak's book, "White Elephants on Campus," but its contemporaries, including chapels at Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago, are as she provides readers with two history lessons. One is about religion's role on campuses of private, nondenominational U.S. universities; the other is about the architecture of these chapels.

She does both well as she explains how the chapel, as a structure and as an educational foundation, was a source of debate among administrators, educators, students and alumni as a religion versus science battle took place on campuses.

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