Our History

Our commitment to higher education “without sectarian or ideological bias,” has never changed though our name has:

  • The National Council of Schools of Religion (1922-1924)
  • The National Council on Religion in Higher Education (1924-1962)
  • Society for Religion in Higher Education (1962-1973)
  • Society for Values in Higher Education (SVHE) (1973-present)

In 1921, Charles Foster Kent, Yale University’s Woolsey Professor of Biblical Literature, visited six large secular and state universities. Returning with some dismay, he proposed to prominent friends the need for more and better-trained teachers of religion. Out of his concern, the National Council of Schools of Religion was incorporated in 1922 and granted, the following year, nine fellowships for graduate study in religion.

In 1923, the group of Fellows (re)incorporated under the name of The National Council on Religion in Higher Education with the objective of promoting inquiry into values in higher education. Their goals were “to initiate and support projects and the collection of data bearing upon” the resources that higher educational institutions can direct toward such values inquiry, “to act as a facilitating agency in the enlistment, selection, and professional growth of teachers and other leaders in colleges and universities.”

In 1924, twenty-two more fellowships [a.k.a. “Kent Fellowships”] were awarded to a group which included three women. Thus, from the beginning, both genders have been recognized and diversity has been a means to, as well as a goal, the fellowship.

In 1934, at a time of national economic depression, the Board of Directors’ minutes read “The Council has survived, has kept its morale, and dares to have plans for the future….We have had to discover what our place is in the life of our times….We are a fellowship that believes in the values of holding together, in a process of fruitful exchange of beliefs and convictions among persons of widely diverse viewpoints and backgrounds…We attach great value to understanding and to mind meeting mind…We are trying to develop and foster the growth of teachers who are intellectually and technically equipped and productive in their own fields, who have paid the price of hard work and discipline and who are expert in the guidance of youth.”

In 1948, activities and office space were located in New Haven, funded largely by the town’s Edward W. Hazen Foundation. In the years since, Society offices have been located at or near various universities, including Columbia University, Yale University, Georgetown University, Portland State University  and, presently, Western Kentucky University.

In 1962, Kent Fellows and Danforth Fellows merged. Substantial funding from the Danforth Foundation continued until 1976. Since then memberships to SVHE have been automatically offered to recipients of Kent Fellowship, Danforth Graduate Fellowship, Danforth Graduate Fellowship for Women, E. Harris Harbison Awards for Distinguished Teaching, and Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

In 1968, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal first appeared. Its stated purpose is “to encourage scholars to challenge the fragmentation of modern intellectual life… It aims to publish essays that open disciplines to each other, and looks for readers who sense in such openings some prospect for greater coherence and amplitude in public discourse.”

In recent years, Foundations including:

Cleveland H. Dodge, Jessie Ball DuPont,Luce, Rockefeller, Ford, ARCO, Exxon,Charles Merrill Trust,Lilly Endowment,Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and the National Endowment for the Humanities have recognized Society work with grants and project subsidies to support the following projects, among others:

  • Studies of the Nature of General Education—Issues, Resources, and Guidelines for Reform
  • Institutional Renewal through the Improvement of Teaching (PIRIT)
  • Good Practice in General Education
  • Ethical Issues in the Management of Public and Private Institutions
  • Nurturing Black and Hispanic Students
  • Values and Decision-Making in Higher Education
  • Renewing Liberal Arts Colleges
  • The Search for Values Consensus in America
  • The Ethical Crisis in Higher Education
  • Various national institutes to explore topics such as:
    • Death and Human Experience
    • Teaching the Humanities to “New” Students”
    • Accountability in the Professions
    • Technology and Values
    • The Scope and Limits of Law

View the abbreviated history of SFHE Fellows Meetings from 1924-present HERE