Columbia University ca. 1910
History of the Religion Department
On the occasion of Columbia University's Bicentennial, Horace L. Friess, Professor of Philosophy, chronicled the growth of the study of Religion at Columbia. Columbia having recently passed its 250th year, the following timeline traces the history of Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, beginning with the founding of the Religion Department that led to the inter-disciplinary growth of the field of Indo-Tibetan and Tibetan Studies at the University, and highlights the department's role as a major contributor in the home to diverse academic research that Columbia University is today.

1905-1947 Pre-History 1947-1961 The Founding of the Department 1961-1991 The First Thirty Years 1991-PRESENT Recent History Next

Dean Lung

Horace Walpole Carpentier (Trustee 1905-1918) donates $10,000 in the name of his Chinese manservant, Dean Lung, to establish the Dean Lung Fund for Chinese Studies at Columbia University. Dean Lung, himself, augments the endowment with a gift of his own life-savings of $12,000. The following year, on October 7, 1902, the Trustees approve the creation of the Dean Lung Professorship of Chinese Studies with Frederick Hirth becoming the first Dean Lung Professor. Carpentier went on to make a similar endowment in his own name to Oakland College (now the University of California at Berkeley), and in 1905 was made a Trustee of Columbia University.

Nicholas Murray Butler

Nicholas Murray Butler (1882 CC, PhD 1884) succeeds Seth Low as the 12th President of Columbia University. Butler defines his vision of the defining the modern research university stating, "In these modern days, the university is not apart from the activities of the world, but in them and of them. It deals with real problems and it relates itself to life as it is ... every legitimate demand for guidance, for leadership, for expert knowledge, for trained skill, for personal service, it is the ... duty of the university to meet." Over the subsequent hundred years these recurring themes would shape the Religion Department and Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia.

Wendall T. Bush

Columbia University Professor Wendall T. Bush (1866-1941) joins the faculty of the Philosophy Department. Bush co-founds The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, and begins a regular series of trips abroad acquiring religious and cultural artifacts from diverse lands and societies for use in his research and classrooms. From 1917 onward, Bush begins regularly teaching a course on "The Philosophy of Religion" at both Barnard and Columbia. Known for his whimsical good humor and utilizing first hand interactions with his collection of religious artifacts, Bush exposes his students to the idea of religion as "a very important part of the world of imagination" above and beyond its textual representation in various disparate cultures. Several of his students go on to play pivotal roles in the founding of the Religion Department, including Herbert Schneider, Horace Friess, and Marguerite Block.

Raymond C. Knox

Raymond C. Knox (1876-1952) who joined Columbia as Chaplain in 1908, secures a bequest to the University for a half million dollars. Known as the William C. Schermerhorn Memorial Fund, Knox argues for the preferential use of the bulk of these funds to strengthen and enlarge the instructional program in the religion. Knox's opinions hold sway and results in new undergraduate courses at both Barnard and Columbia, the inauguration of the Schermerhorn Lectures in Religion series, and a dedicated Columbia Professorship in Religion.

Herbert W. Schneider

Already in the Philosophy Department, Columbia University Professor Herbert W. Schneider (Columbia A.B. 1915, Ph.D 1917) receives the title of the newly created "Professor of Religion," and is appointed as a member of the "Administrative Board of Religious and Social Work." Schneider inaugurates a graduate seminar devoted to the study of religious movements in American culture, and in conjunction with Horace Friess and Irwin Edman begins teaching both graduate and undergraduate classes on Religion in the Philosophy Department. The described goal is "to extend the student's acquaintance with the world's sacred writings, religious practices, religious art, and religious ideas, and to study the nature and function of these in human experience."

Review of Religion

Receiving funds from both the University and private benefactors, Herbert Schneider founds the academic journal, "The Review of Religion."  Devoted to the publication of scholarly articles in the history and philosophy of religion, the journal features the work of prominant figures in the field of Religious Studies including Paul Tillich, and others.

Theos Bernard

In January 1943, Professor Schneider — then Chair of the Philosophy Department — petitions the President's Office to allow the department to accept Ph.D. dissertations in Religion. In May of 1943, Theos Bernard presents the first official dissertation in Religion for his Ph.D., Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience. The dissertation receives "unstinted praise" by one of the leading scholars of the day, Dr. Walter Evans-Wentz as "a genuine contribution to the advancement of philosophical and anthropological learning."

Acting President Frank Fackenthal

Schneider writes to the acting President of Columbia University, Frank Fackenthal, in support of founding a Department of Religion, noting that more than half of the graduate students in the Philosophy Department are actively researching subjects in Religious Studies.

Next: The Founding of the Religion Department [1947-1961]