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Archive for Saturday, January 11, 1992

T ALWAYS PART OF KU

January 11, 1992

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Although Kansas University students today can study everything from women in Christianity to the history of Judaism to new religious movements, it wasn't until 1922 that students could earn credit for courses on religious studies.

And it wasn't until 1977 that KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences had its own religious studies department.

Dwight Metzler, author of "The Bible on Mt. Oread," said that at the turn of the century, "There was the very distinct feeling that religion shouldn't be taught on state university campuses."

However, he said, members of the Disciples of Christ churches, especially women members, felt otherwise.

"One might think that they were just interested in teaching things found in the Bible," but they actually emphasized scholarly religious study, said Metzler, a Topekan and former officer in the Kansas Bible Chair, the state organization of the Disciples of Christ denomination.

THE DENOMINATION established a school for religious studies at the University of Michigan in 1892, and another one was later established at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

It was in 1901 that the Kansas Bible Chair purchased a farmhouse on the corner of 13th and Oread in Lawrence to provide courses on religious studies to students attending KU.

Thanks largely to a $10,000 contribution from a Mary Myers made in honor of her late husband, J. Lewis Myers, the building was expanded in 1907, and the building took on the name Myers Hall.

In 1921, the Kansas Bible Chair spearheaded the formation of the Kansas School of Religion, a separate corporation with no official ties to the university.

Because the school had interdenominational representation, KU students could earn college credit for religious studies classes beginning in 1922.

In 1960, a campaign began to get denominations other than the Disciples of Christ to provide financial support for the school's activities.

"Until around 1962, most of the support from other denominations was really lip service," Metzler said. "But at that time, the financing from the other churches increased very substantially."

AND IT WASN'T long before the School of Religion got a new home. In 1965, Myers Hall was demolished to make way for a new building, the present-day Smith Hall.

In 1977, KU's department of religious studies was formed and religious studies became officially part of the university.

However, Judy Ventsam, administrative assistant for the Kansas School of Religion, said the organization still provides all the funding for the 12,000-volume library at Smith Hall. The school also has provided computers and audio-visual equipment for the library and scholarships for students.

The Kansas Bible Chair leases Smith Hall to the Kansas School of Religion, which in turn provides KU with use of the building.

Allen Wiechert, president of the 15-member board of trustees of the Kansas School of Religion, said, "A lot of people think we're a part of KU, but we're really not and never have been."

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