Religion at Baylor, 1941-1950

The Second World War served as a catalyst that prompted traditional students, returning war veterans and university faculty to seek spiritual guidance from the institution’s leaders. University administration concentrated on reviving a healthy religious atmosphere through the implementation of Religious Focus Week programs. However, the spiritual needs of the returning war veterans were overlooked forcing them to find pre-existing religious initiatives.   Additionally, the administrative efforts of Pat Neff and Dr. W. R. White during the 1940s demonstrated an overarching agenda that transcended Baylor’s traditional denominational focus during this decade.

Kayla Molnar’s Religious Focus Week: A Spiritual Response to Crises discusses the formation and impact of the Religious Focus Week programs on Baylor University’s campus. Religious Focus Week programs sought to connect the Christian faith to everyday life and to demonstrate the applicability of Christian beliefs to present-day problems. Religious Focus Week activities catered to the spiritual needs of the university’s constituents by providing several outlets in which students and faculty alike matured in their faith though special chapel programs, in-class visitations by prominent guest speakers, and late-night discussions within the residence halls. These Religious Focus Weeks aided both students and faculty in their spiritual developmental journeys until a new form of programming became necessary in reaching the university’s constituents.

Billy Baker’s Veteran Student Needs: A look into their visible and invisible needs and how they were approached by Baylor discusses war veteran housing and spiritual needs. Upon the arrival of veteran students to campus, Baylor began providing for one salient need, housing the veteran students and their families. In housing the veteran students Baylor contributed a great deal of resources and time. Baylor purchased land to build 540 two and three bedroom apartments and Kokernot, a male residence hall . However, Baylor failed to provide for the veteran students’ spiritual needs. President Pat Morris Neff declined an opportunity to prepare specific spiritual initiatives for the veteran students leaving them to seek out pre-existing programs, such as a prayer meeting off campus and the youth lead revival occurring in Waco in 1946-1947 to fill their spiritual needs.

During the 1940s, Baylor presidents, Pat Neff and Dr. William White, worked to establish Baylor University as a leader in Christian higher education. However, the two presidents demonstrated their additional commitment to redefine Baylor’s traditional image as a church school. Both presidents desired Baylor to become a more distinguished religious institution that was worthy of national prestige and relevant to global issues. For example, in the early 1940s, Pat Neff established an on-campus military training program in order to demonstrate Baylor’s commitment to the national war effort, contradicting Baylor’s prior majority pacifist sentiment on campus. When Dr. W. R. White took office in 1948, he pushed for more complete research facilities, the expansion of Baylor’s graduate school, and a successful athletic program. President White recognized that improving these areas of the institution would help promote Baylor’s Christian image as balanced and competitive to other research institutions, both religious and secular, across the nation. Therefore, both presidential agendas attempted to push Baylor beyond its traditional religious image toward greater national notoriety.

Religious Focus Week: A Spiritual Response to Crises by Kayla Molnar

Surpassing a Limited Church School Image: Baylor During the 1940s by Jesse Ross

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