Christian Study Centers on Campuses

  • Religion
  • 1976

When Daryl Richman arrived at the University of Virginia in 1968 he encountered students who had little experience of church but hungered to understand the intellectual traditions of Christianity. Some of these pursued studies at places like the L’Abri Fellowship that evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer created in Switzerland. Soon there was interest in having a somewhat similar gathering place at UVA where Christian intellectual life, lectures, and fellowship would be supported. In 1976, with financial help from townspeople and faculty, the Center for Christian Study bought a house on the edge of campus and began to host events.

The group expanded, and soon inspired similar entities on other campuses in California, Minnesota, Connecticut, and elsewhere. In 2009 an informal network of these groups formed themselves into the nonprofit Consortium of Christian Study Centers. By 2015 the consortium had 19 member centers at colleges across the country, where students wrestled to connect Christian beliefs with their classroom work and with challenges in the world around them. An annual budget of about $300,000 provided by donors allowed the organization to incubate new campus affiliates, advise their growth, and help them find staff and speakers. “This is a movement,” says director Drew Trotter.

Some of these study centers have become quite advanced in their offerings. For instance, the Chesterton House at Cornell now provides not only stimulating talks, study groups, and social events, but also opportunities to take classes in theology and Biblical studies and get Cornell credit. Thanks to dual million-dollar gifts from the parents of one student, Chesterton House is establishing residential units—jokingly referred to by the director as “crosses between a fraternity and a monastery”—for both men and women.