Auburn: ‘The Largest Baptist University In The World’

War Eagle VIII

Auburn University ranks ninth on the Princeton Review’s list of Most Religious Students. This strong ranking reminds me of something an Auburn president said one time. We’ll get to that, but first let’s consider this question—How could Auburn be more religious than so many private, denominationally sponsored schools?

The answer lies in the Princeton Review’s methodology. They didn’t look at confessional statements, or even Creeds. They asked the students—137,000 of them at 382 schools—how strongly they agreed with this statement: “Students [at my school] are very religious.”

So the Auburn students see themselves, on the whole, as more religious than do students at other schools.

Why? It comes with the territory. In the South we generally live our faith out loud. At the least, we’ll talk with you—with anybody—about where we go to church; and it’s often a Baptist church. That brings us to the notion of Auburn as a Baptist university.

It’s not an officially serious notion, but it clearly stems from a kernel of truth. Consider this recollection from Auburn History Professor Emeritus Wayne Flynt.

Auburn First Baptist Church was in many ways an extension of the university . . . Faculty, students, and administrators of that denomination all attended. President Harry Philpott preached from time to time and once remarked that if judged by the students’ denominational preference, Auburn was the largest Baptist university in the world. (Keeping the Faith, pp. 156–157)

Philpott’s condition, if judged by the students’ denominational preference, distinguishes Auburn from “hardcore Christian conservative colleges.” By contrast, Auburn’s starting quarterback for 2017, Jarrett Stidham, transferred from a school that makes the claim unconditionally.

Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas and affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baylor is both the state’s oldest institution of higher learning and the world’s largest Baptist university.

Interestingly enough, Baylor ranks one spot lower than Auburn on the Princeton Review’s list of most religious students. Maybe that’s why Stidham chose Auburn. After Baylor, he didn’t want to downgrade.

Maybe he was even inspired by the Bible verse from the Auburn Creed, which is etched into a sidewalk on the Baylor campus; not the Creed, but the verse, Micah 6:8.

Micah 6:8 Baylor University

Or, maybe his decision was mostly about football. That’s possible.

Regardless, that Stidham moved from “the world’s largest Baptist university” to a more religious student body at Auburn reminds us how football and faith often intersect in the South. The stadium on Saturday; the sanctuary on Sunday; and both—in how we think, speak and relate to each other—every day of the week.

Remembering Dr. Philpott’s assessment reminds us how—despite Auburn’s many changes—something from the seventies (and long before) still remains. It’s not the only thing; it’s one connection between the students of today and the previous generation. Other connections exists, and they’re all important.

They all play a role in making up the indefinable something that binds together the Auburn Family.

Josh Dowdy

Josh Dowdy

Josh Dowdy is the editor for Heart of Auburn. He has also contributed to Bleacher Report and College & Magnolia. Dowdy is the author of Orange is Our Color: The Tuberville Years through Navy-tinted Glasses.
Josh Dowdy

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