Baylor Historian Receives Grant to Research Important American Religious Controversy

February 16, 2022

Feb. 16, 2022

By Randy Fiedler, Director of Marketing and Communications, College of Arts & Sciences, Baylor University

Andrea L. Turpin, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate program director of history in the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences, will use a prestigious national research grant to shed new light on a 20th century religious controversy that is still affecting disagreements in American faith communities today.

The $40,000 grant, received through the Louisville Institute’s Sabbatical Grant for Researchers (SGR) program, is for Turpin’s project titled A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.” The SGR allows researchers “to conduct a major study that can contribute to the vitality of Christianity in North America” and supports projects that “address Christian faith and life, the practice of ministry, and/or adaptive challenges confronting religious institutions,” according to the Louisville Institute.

“I am so honored to be a recipient of the Louisville Institute grant,” said Turpin, who joined the Baylor faculty in 2011. “As a Christian scholar, I am profoundly thankful for their investment in scholarship that benefits the church in North America, and for their endorsement of my work’s contribution to that goal.”

The SGR grant will allow Turpin to take a research leave for the entire calendar year 2023 to produce a book manuscript based on her findings.

“Historians usually narrate the Protestant fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century as a tale of men yelling at each other,” Turpin said. “My book project, A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, will change our understanding of these debates by doing what no book has yet done –– positioning women as key players in the narrative.”

According to Turpin, the controversy’s legacy is still felt today.

“Historians have continued to care about this hundred-year-old split between theological and social conservatives and liberals because they contributed to the modern American culture wars, both inside and outside church walls,” Turpin said. “Back then, when Protestant fundamentalists (conservatives) and modernists (liberals) fought about whether it mattered if Jesus was God, or whether the Bible was accurate, or the relative weight to be placed on individual conversion or social reform, they were creating cultural fissures still with us today.”

Turpin believes we are now living through what might be called “the fundamentalist-modernist controversy 2.0,” and said we don’t have the resources needed to understand it or respond to it well.

“Religious denominations are again strained by strident disagreements on theology and social policy, and these disagreements again involve divergent attitudes toward race and gender,” Turpin said. “Theological conservatives today continue to hold to doctrines like the deity of Christ and the accuracy of Scripture on which fundamentalists (and later evangelicals) insisted, but they are splitting on how to approach justice for women and sexual and racial minorities. Many of their denominations continue to limit the pastoral role to men, constricting the range of conversation at top levels. Understanding how lay women approached the earlier debates will help these and other denominations today see the importance of platforming their voices now, more so with gender now a leading issue.”

Barry Hankins, Ph.D., chair and professor of history, said national competition is keen for the grant Turpin won.

“This sort of external grant is a big part of what got Baylor to Research-1 status, and it will help us stay there,” Hankins said. “I’m really looking forward to the book Dr. Turpin is working on. As someone who also studies American fundamentalism and evangelicalism, I can say the role of women in the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s is sorely understudied –– and she is just the scholar we need to write this timely book.”

Turpin’s first book, A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917 (2016), examines how the entrance of women into U.S. colleges and universities shaped changing ideas about the religious and moral purposes of higher education during the era of the rise of the modern college and university. It won a number of major awards, including the Lilly Fellows Program Biennial Book Award and Baylor’s Guittard Book Award for Historical Scholarship.

Funded by the religious division of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Louisville Institute is based at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. It defines its mission as to “bridge Church and academy through awarding grants and fellowships to those who study North American religious institutions, practices, and movements, and thereby promoting scholarship that strengthens Church, academy, society, and contributes to the flourishing of the Church.”