Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

January 29: Classes about Islam

Ways To Subscribe

On this date in 1910, students at the University of North Dakota were studying for their final exams. Registration Day on that year's calendar was February 8, so they were also considering classes to take during the upcoming spring semester.

The students had the opportunity to take a two-credit class about Islam. UND's student newspaper, the Weekly Student, wrote that Professor McCown had made a special study of the religion “while living among its followers in India...”

Professor McCown was on the faculty of Wesley College, a religious college that had been newly established on the north side of University Avenue opposite UND. UND and Wesley College had signed an affiliation agreement in 1905, which permitted automatic credit transfers between the two institutions. This groundbreaking collaboration between a public university and a religious college would be imitated by other universities throughout the United States.

President Robertson of Wesley College prided himself on fostering an ecumenical culture. Even his critics conceded that Wesley College was “maintained upon a broad non-sectarian basis.” Students of all creeds and beliefs could choose from the various courses offered in religion.

Wesley College also taught courses in Hebrew and Biblical Greek that year. The Weekly Student wrote that no other state university, through its affiliation with a church college, had classes available “in the philosophy of religion and in the Bible in the original languages...”

Professors at Wesley College were noted for teaching classes of their choice. This attitude would be strongly criticized by the Methodist Church's internal auditors, who wrote a generation later in 1931, “... although there is a considerable amount of specialization in the offerings, no attempt is made to cover the field completely by specialized courses. For example, a brief course is given in the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews, but other sections of the Bible are not similarly covered by the specialized courses. The result is that the offerings appear spotty and are without definite integration.”

This eclecticism at Wesley College was by design. This class about Islam, available to students at UND in 1910, was in keeping with that tradition.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “CALENDAR OF UNIVERSITY YEAR”, GENERAL CATALOGUE: 1909-1910 (Grand Forks, The University of North Dakota, March 1910), page 9.
  • “WESLEY COLLEGE: Offers Interesting Courses in Philosophy and Bible”, Weekly Student (Grand Forks), 27 February 1910, page 4, columns 3-4.
  • The theme of Wesley College's 1925 Hazlett Lecture, commemorating twenty years of affiliation between UND and Wesley College, was “The Religions of India.” The speaker was J. J. Cornelius, later known as J. C. Kumarappa, a radical anti-imperialist and an advisor to Gandhi.
  • So, Wesley College's course about Islam was not its only connection to India.
  • “CORNELIUS TO TALK OF INDIA THIS MORNING”, Dakota Student (Grand Forks), 26 February 1925, page 1, column 3.
  • “LARGE CROWD ATTENDS LAST OF PROGRAMS”; Dakota Student (Grand Forks); 27 February 1925; page 1, column 5; page 4, column 1.
  • Religious diversity as understood at UND during that era included “Baptist, Catholic, Christian Science, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Scandinavian Baptist, Scandinavian Methodist, Congregational, and Hebrew Synagogue.” So, Islam would have been regarded as exotic.
  • “RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES”, THE UNIVERSITY BULLETIN: Catalogue 1908-09 (Grand Forks, The University of North Dakota, March 1909), pages 31-32.
  • President Edward P. Robertson, “The Story of the Affiliation of Wesley College with the University of North Dakota” (Robertson Typescript), 16 February 1935, pages 9-10, 21. Wesley College – Wesley Center of Religion Records, University Archives 63, Series 4, Box 4, Folder 27, Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
  • Upton Sinclair, The Goose-Step (Pasadena, CA: By the author, 1923), pages 236-237.
  • Robertson Typescript, page 20.
  • Floyd W. Reeves (Director of the Survey) and John Dale Russell (Assistant Director); Report of a Survey of WESLEY COLLEGE, Grand Forks, North Dakota (Chicago: The Commission on Survey of Educational Institutions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1931), pages 4-5. (Survey) President's Office Records, 1884-present; University Archives 43; Series 1: Presidential Files (1884-1999); Subseries 5: Thomas F. Kane, 1918-1933; Box 1, Folder 44, Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
  • “WESLEY COLLEGE” (advertisement), Weekly Student (Grand Forks), 27 February 1910, page 2, columns 4-6.
  • Survey, pages 13-14.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content