With funding from the John Templeton Foundation (2020-22), Upper House spearheaded the Higher Pursuits Project — to engage the history, ideals, and values that shape the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and human flourishing in the contemporary university. In addition to conferences, colloquia, and initiatives launched by eight study centers at other universities, Upper House researched the religious history of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and created a video, audio walking tour, and historical essay, accessible below.

The University of Wisconsin and the Ideal of Nonsectarianism: Organized Religion at a Flagship Public University, 1848-2023, is a 70-page essay by historian Daniel G. Hummel, PhD, Director of University Engagement at Upper House. Highlighting the university’s relationship with religion over its 175-year history, the essay documents the nonlinear influence of faith on the campus’ culture and policymaking. Based on archival research and interviews with emeritus faculty, this essay was funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation through its support of the Higher Pursuits Project (2020-2022).

Download link for PDF Version

Download link for EBook Version

The color (printed) publication is available upon request by emailing info@upperhouse.org.



A Brief History of Faith at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a 20-minute video that highlights some of the diverse leaders, professors, and places at UW-Madison.




Spirit and Stone is an audio tour of the historical heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus that highlights some of the rich religious and spiritual heritage of the old campus.





Overview and Activities


Why explore spirituality and purpose in the contemporary university?

Today’s universities claim more knowledge and information about the world than any other institution at any point in history. Each year millions of students from around the world enroll in these institutions hoping to realize their highest potential and improve the quality of life for all. But human flourishing and quality of life depend on values, especially spiritual values. How are prevailing values expressed and pursued in contemporary universities?  How do universities leverage education to advance their missions and high aspirations for students and faculty? How do universities increase knowledge seasoned with wisdom?

Exploring these questions and cultivating enduring answers requires space to consider matters of mind and of soul. To create this space, Upper House initiated a series of learning cohorts and events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And on the national level, Upper House partnered with other Christian study centers to increase the integration of faith and academics.


At the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Student Fellows Cohort

Building on Upper House’s existing student Fellows Program, a semester-long cohort was dedicated to exploring and understanding science as a vital area of Christian engagement.

Spiritual History Project

Although the UW-Madison is a public land grant institution, in the beginning it was shaped by faculty and administrators with deeply held religious convictions. Today, many faculty continue to be people of faith. Historian Dan Hummel, Director of University Engagement at Upper House, led an initiative to collect original research and record oral histories to tell a story of ongoing spiritual expression at the UW-Madison. The effort yielded an essay, video, and audiotour of the old part of UW-Madison’s campus, shedding light on ways spiritual inquiry and practice continue today and, potentially, miught thrive on tomorrow’s campus.

The Faculty Learning Cohort

A learning cohort of faculty from a variety of disciplines were gathered to participate in a year-long conversation focused on the mission and purpose of the UW-Madison in the twenty-first century. They explored such questions as: What can a shared vision for a world-renowned research university look like? How might diverse academic and professional disciplines embrace this purpose?



Visiting Theologian

Functioning as a public university, the UW-Madison lacks a dedicated theological faculty. To aid us in considering deep currents of religious belief and spiritual practice, Upper House has invited Dr. Lea F. Schweitz to partner with us as our Theologian in Residence.Dr. Lea F. Schweitz earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in philosophy of religion at the University of Chicago and a B.A. from Luther College in biology and philosophy. She is the co-founder of Nature120, a non-profit organization that provides nature play and airway therapy for children on Chicago’s west side and in the western suburbs; she also is the Director of Children’s Education for Yorkfield Presbyterian Church. Previously she was a a tenured professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and directed the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. Learn more about Lea here.

Study Center Partners

The Higher Pursuits Project extends beyond the UW-Madison campus to include other vibrant Christian study centers at elite American universities. Pilot grants to the following Christian study centers aim to raise academic and institutional consciousness of religious discourse and purpose. Each of the partner study centers and their projects are described here and linked below. (Note: The grant recipient at the University of Michigan is exploring the establishment of a Christian study center on that campus.)

Anselm House at University of Minnesota

Bradley Study Center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Chesterton House at Cornell University

Christian Study Center of Gainesville at University of Florida

North Carolina Study Center  at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Octet Collaborative  at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Theological Horizons  at University of Virginia

University of Michigan (Exploratory)

Summits, National Conference, and Future Inquiry Areas

Our Higher Pursuits Project is hosting two interim Summits to discuss issues critical to the Study Center movement and partners’ progress toward accomplishing Higher Pursuits’ goals. The project will culminate in a two-day National Conference at Upper House to share key findings from its exploratory tracks with the UW-Madison and stakeholder communities. We will also cast vision for promising future inquiries. (Below, leaders of participating study centers and Upper House gather in June 2021 at Summit I.)


Trauma and Hope, June 2-4, 2021 Madison, WI

Focusing on issues related to engaging university publics in light of the pandemic experience, 37 people, representing the participating study centers, the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, and Upper House leadership team, attended Summit I. The content-rich Summit included three plenary sessions and two elective sessions; in addition, all participating study center leaders offered progress reports on the execution of their sub-grants.

Plenary 1 — The Psychology of Trauma: Naming the Pain and Practicing Resilience

Cynthia Eriksson, Professor of Psychology and PsyD Program Chair, Clinical Psychology Department, Fuller Theological Seminary


Plenary 2 — The Science of Trauma, presentations and panel discussion facilitated by Visiting Theologian Lea Schweitz


Reid Alisch, Assistant Professor and Researcher in Neurosurgery, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Joshua Mersky, Professor of Social Work in the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare and founding co-director of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Myra McNair, Executive Director at Anesis Center for Marriage and Family Therapy, Madison, Wisconsin


Plenary 3 — A Theology of Hope

Father Rick Ganz, Founder and Director of the Faber Institute

Technology and Wisdom, October 20-22, 2021 


Plenary 1 Wisdom Workers: Finding Our Way in an Information Age


Plenary 2 Digital Practice as Liturgy: A matter of Christian Formation


Plenary 3 The Wisdom of God in a Sacred Cosmos


This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.