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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Lampe, Matthew Willard
(August 4, 1883–September 23, 1969)

–Presbyterian pastor, religious educator, and founding director of the School of Religion at the State University of Iowa—was born in Bethlehem, Connecticut. He earned an A.B. at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (1904); a B.D. (1909) and D.D. (1919) at Omaha Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1912. He married Lydia Vallentyne in 1912 and, after her death, Dorothy McGlone (a Roman Catholic) in 1935, and produced four children. He taught history at Knox College from 1904 to 1906, and then moved on to a varied career in the major northern Presbyteriandenomination and in religious education at the State University of Iowa.

    Lampe was strongly affiliated with the liberal wing of his denomination and of the Protestant mainstream in the North and Midwest. Persuaded that "the knowledge of God always comes... in connection with what is highest and best in ourselves," he viewed the religious life as the product not of a dramatic conversion but of the gradual inculcation and practice, under divine guidance, of "selfknowledge, self-reverence, and self-control."Since these were values best realized educationally, religious education became the central project of Lampe's life.

    After a term as Presbyterian university pastor at the University of Pennsylvania (1912- 1921), he became director of the Department of University Work of the Presbyterian Board of Education. In 1927 he was appointed founding director of the School of Religion at the State University of Iowa. Although remaining active in national and Presbyterian enterprises (serving, for example, as moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of Iowa in 1949-1950), his career became almost synonymous with the School of Religion's until his retirement in 1953. The School of Religion (renamed the Department of Religious Studies in 2003) was the first successful academic department of religion at an American state university. With the full support of a succession of presidents and deans, Lampe steered it through the trials of organizing and sustaining a controversial institution. His major aims were to devise a financial basis for the school, to counter secularizing trends in higher education, and to build an interfaith coalition that would link the school, the university, and Iowa's major religious denominations and foster the religious convictions and welfare of all members of the university.

    To fund religious studies in a context defined by the separation of church and state, he and his associates obtained grants from the Rockefeller Institute of Social and Religious Research (1927-1937) and mounted fund-raising campaigns to solicit contributions from the Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches; Jewish and Protestant individual donors; and others. After 1937 Lampe persuaded the university to pick up the school's administrative expenses. To justify the study of religion in a nonsectarian university, he drew a clear distinction between religious advocacy in the classroom, which he discouraged, and "disciplined study of the role of religion in human culture."

    At the same time, Lampe saw the school as an "experimental" endeavor to forge links between the university and the mainstream religious denominations, to move religious concerns from the extracurricular fringe to the curricular mainstream, to incorporate spiritual and moral values into the university experience, and to reverse trends in higher education divorcing scientific scholarship from religious faith. Accordingly, and to ensure the "cooperative efforts of the religious bodies of the State and of the University in the support and control of the School," he recruited a board of trustees that included representatives of the university faculty and administration as well as churches and other religious organizations.

    Enlisting faculty who were at once reputable academics and ordained Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish clergy, he wrote a little-noted chapter in planned religious diversity and ecumenical cooperation in the first half of the 20th century. He also enlisted faculty in other departments to teach cross-listed courses in the literary study of the Bible, "character education," and other pertinent areas.

    During Lampe's tenure, the School of Religion sponsored a variety of expressly religious projects, including daily "morning meditations" broadcast on radio station WSUI (including programs by the student Negro Forum) and daily chapel services. Lampe also functioned as unofficial chaplain to the university, delivering religious addresses in the university chapel and at civic groups and other organizations in the city and state and saying prayers at university functions. He preached the funeral sermon for Grant Wood in February 1942. He corresponded with John Foster Dulles, Ralph Bunche, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Hutchinson, Lewis Mumford, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Herbert Hoover, and other notable figures of the time.
Sources The Papers of M. Willard Lampe, along with annual reports from the School of Religion are in the University Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. See also Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1925–1943, Archives of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Iowa; M. Willard Lampe, "A Brief History of the School of Religion, the University of Iowa," University of Iowa Bulletin, new ser., no. 2078, 6/1/1974; and Marcus Bach, Of Faith and Learning: The Story of the School of Religion at the State University of Iowa (1952).
Contributor: Theodore Dwight Bozeman

Cite as: Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. "Lampe, Matthew Willard" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 December 2017