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George Albert Coe

By Helen Allan Archibald


George Albert Coe (1862-1951) addressed the 1903 convention that established the Religious Education Association; during a long career as a professor and writer, he so embraced and elaborated the goals and vision of the Association that he earned recognition as "the father of the religious education movement." His seminal 1917 A Social Theory of Religious Education fused liberal theology, psychology and sociology into one comprehensive and integrated whole that rivaled in scope John Dewey's Democracy and Education (1916).


Family and Schooling

George Albert Coe was born into a Methodist parsonage on March 26, 1862 in Mendon, Monroe County in western New York. He was the son of the Reverend George W. Coe and Harriet Van Voorhis to whom also a daughter, Hattie, was later born.

The Genesse Annual conference within which Reverend Coe served was called "the burnt-over district" by the nineteenth century revivalist, Charles Grandison Finney. Finney was referring to the intensity with which successive generations of Methodist circuit riders preached a fiery rhetoric of judgment and salvation throughout the region. Throughout Coe's boyhood, evangelical fervor and millennial and perfectionist enthusiasms kept the Genesse Annual Conference in turmoil.

Coe wrote only briefly of his family but his scattered references suggest a family lacking in easy intimacy, a family in which the emotive piety of the mother softened somewhat the doctrinal orthodoxy of the father. Coe enjoyed the rural settings of his family's parsonages, developing a life-long love of the out-of-doors.

In 1884, at eighteen, Coe left home to enter Rochester, newly named a university following the current fashion, but still a church-related college in the style of the mid-nineteenth century. Coe began his college years without "an inward testimony" of his salvation, but since his own father had not experienced a conversion until his twentieth year that was not initially a problem; however, despite Coe's fervent prayers, the first years of college passed without his experiencing anything. Coe's description of this time is exceptionally brief, but it does convey how deeply he yearned for certitude. The quest ended when Coe made a conscious decision to ask no longer for the spiritual certainty that eluded him. Resolutely putting to one side the question of whether or not he had been accepted by god, Coe committed his own life to "the Christian way." Breaking with the tradition of his church and his family, Coe counted himself a Christian on the basis of his own ethical decision.

His second commitment was inspired by his biology teacher who held up to his students the meticulous care with which Darwin organized his empirical data to support his hypothesis in The Origin of Species (1859). One Sunday morning, Coe solemnly espoused the scientific method vowing to follow it wherever it might lead, thus joining the ranks of those who in increasing numbers were finding their security in methods of inquiry, of observation, of experience, or forming and following hypotheses.

After graduation from Rochester and still looking forward to a career in ministry, Coe began a three year divinity course at Methodist-related Boston University. At Boston, he made a third commitment that would be decisive for his future: he turned away from theology and toward philosophy and he shifted his career goal from minister to professor. His philosophy professor was Borden Parker Bowne who, until his death in 1910 was the foremost philosopher within American Methodism. From Bowne Coe learned to think of natural processes and religion itself as under law and yet at the same time to think of them under categories of freedom and personality. Bowne taught that personality was the only reality in the universe. He declared that the universe itself finally is "immaterial, conscious and personal" (Coe, 1937. pp. 100-101). Bowne's personalism was a life-long legacy which Coe modified but never repudiated. Coe received an S.T.B. in 1887. He stayed another year studying philosophy under Bowne and received an M.A. in 1888. Boston awarded him the Ph.D. in 1891 and the same year honored him with Joseph Sleeper Traveling Fellowship.

What he later called "his word of destiny" came to him in 1886 when he met Sadie E. Knowland of Alameda, California. They were married on September 3, 1888 and spent the next two years at the University of Los Angeles where Coe held what he called "a humble post" teaching philosophy. They married with mutual understanding of her ambition to have a career in music and Coe wrote that neither of them for a moment regretted it. "To work side by side in our respective profession," he wrote, "seemed to us to be at once destiny and duty and highest happiness." Both had yearned to study abroad and were elated when Coe won the traveling fellowship. They decided to go to Berlin where George Albert studied at the University of Berlin and Sadie found teachers who developed her talents as a pianist and her interests in music theory.

Coe was thirty years old when he completed his formal studies at Berlin in 1892. He was by then a liberal Protestant affirming no creed but fully committed to central principles coming from the eighteen century Enlightenment.

Although liberal theology was a protean movement, it had a common core. The three root principles that gave liberalism coherence were continuity, autonomy and dynamism. The principle continuity enabled liberals to reject the ancient distinctions between the human and the divine, Christianity and other religions, the sacred and the secular, the individual and society and the natural and the supernatural. The principle of autonomy led liberals to reject any arbitrary appeal to external authority. Believing that since the Enlightenment human beings had "come of age," the liberals celebrated the autonomous reason, which now became the judge of all things including the truths traditionally verified by revelation. The third principle was dynamism. Influenced by Hegel, the new theology was characterized by a dynamic view of God's revelation in history. Progressive revelation now became the norm in interpreting the Bible and liberals increasingly adopted a perspective in which all theological formulations were seen as tentative.

Coe's own life experiences made him perceptive to these principles. Both his commitment to science and evolutionary theory, and his commitment to Bowne's idealist personalism reinforced his own understanding of continuity as a root principle in both nature and religion. The continuity of religious growth from childhood to adolescence to adulthood would become a hallmark of his teachings. The centrality of autonomy in Coe's life is well expressed in an autobiographical sketch where he wrote that his rejection of theological orthodoxy was occasioned by theology's fallacious view of authority and was only the beginning of his heterodoxy, in the time he would question economic, social and political orthodoxies of all kinds.

Lastly, Coe's life-long openness to dynamism was both an intellectual commitment and an expression of his own optimistic temperament. He lived through the first half of the twentieth century and nothing in that tumultuous period, neither the totalitarianisms of the right nor the left, nor the destruction wrought by two world wars, changed his ebullient confidence that the conscience of modernity was being sensitized to ever higher values in an ongoing historical process that he believed was profoundly religious (Coe, 1943).

From 1892 to 1927, Coe taught at three institutions: Northwestern University (1892-1909) in Evanston, Illinois and two institutions in New York City, Union Theological Seminary (1909-1922) and Teachers College, Columbia University (1922-1927). He joined Northwestern's faculty with teaching responsibility in the fields of philosophy, psychology and pedagogy, the same responsibilities John Dewey held at the University of Chicago from 1894-1904. When Dewey left Chicago for Columbia University in 1904, he taught principally in the area of philosophy, but when Coe left Northwestern his focus shifted to psychology and pedagogy; and, later in 1922 when he moved to Teachers College, his primary focus was pedagogy. But these shifting foci were for Coe a part of a larger whole within which he understood the meaning of religious education. Like Dewey, Coe considered philosophy to be a general theory of education.

The Years at Northwestern (1892-1909)

Coe's participation in a national conference on religious education while he was at Northwestern was a watershed experience in his life. The conference was convened in 1903 under the leadership of William Rainey Harpaer, the president of the University of Chicago, who gathered university and college presidents, nationally prominent clergymen, leaders in the YMCA and YWCA, and philosophers, psychologists and educators from academic institutions across the nation for a three day conference that culminated in the decision to create the Religious Education Association. Throughout his long life, Coe was identified with the R.E.A., endorsing as his own the goal of the R.E.A. to bring the religious ideal to general education and the educational ideal to religious education. The goal then had a different meaning than the words might now suggest to a reader. Simply put, the goal was to bring a unified vision of meaningfulness to general education and progressive pedagogy to religious education. Primary characteristics of progressive education were a focus upon the child as learner allowing his/her age and needs to determine the curriculum; a re-interpretation of the teacher's role from transmitter of knowledge to guide and enabler; and the creation of a learning environment in which learner and teacher together sought fro meaning.

The next year, Coe published a paper, "The Philosophy of the Movement for Religious Education," that traced the stimuli for the new educational vision coming from current trends in psychology, philosophy, sociology and theology (Coe, 1904). The R.E.A. represented a movement that summed up for Coe all the influences that had so profoundly shaped his own life. He was to become know as the father of the religious education movement, but he could just as well have been called the son of the movement, for all the influences that gave to the R.E.A. also birthed his own intellectual life. Till his death in 1952, on the eve of its fiftieth anniversary, Coe remained a leader within the R.E.A.

In a biographical essay written in 1935, Coe identified seven of his articles as being mos significant for his maturing thought. Five of these seven were written during his las ten years at Northwestern. The first, "A Study of the Dynamics of Personal Religion" (1899), was based upon his own psychological research into the phenomenon of conversion.

A cluster of studies published at the end of the nineteenth century established the typical age of those experiencing conversion at about seventeen (Coe, 1900, p. 47). One researcher commented that the natural laws governing conversion might emerge if the variety of temperament was taken into account. Coe followed up this lead, he divided his sample of seventy-seven young adults according to their temperament and the predominance of feeling, will or intellect in each.

Intense study of his sample, including the hypnosis of some, led him to confirm his hypothesis. His conclusions made him critical of the Methodist Episcopal Church's reliance upon revival methods to induce conversion. He concluded that the church, through its emphasis upon a sudden transformation, surrendered the care of souls to a process over which it had no control and neglected a process of nurture which it could control.

In the second of the seven, "A Study in Spirituality" (1900), Coe gave a wide-ranging interpretation to his research into temperament. While acknowledging that the four traditional temperamental types-the sanguine, the melancholy, the choleric and the phlegmatic-are but a crude classification of the full range of personality types, he still found them suggestive as he did also the classification of person according to the dominance of feeling, will or intellect. He argued that the church gave greater scope to the spirituality of the sanguine and melancholy than to the choleric or phlegmatic. His research indicated that the former were far more apt to be suggestive under hypnosis and as a group, reported far higher incidents of conversion than the choleric or phlegmatic. He concluded that when the church emphasized admission to its fellowship based upon a conversion experience, it limited discipleship to one temperamental type rather than making it attractive to all. Reviewing the ideal of the saint throughout Christian history, Coe affirmed that while the traditional idea of the saint was attractive to the melancholy personality, it lacked appeal to those in which an active, practical will dominated. Exploring the Methodist hymnal, he concluded that the hymns overwhelmingly emphasized subjective states of feeling making them most attractive to the melancholy and those in whom feeling dominated over will or intellect.

In "The Sources of Mystical Revelation" (1908), Coe disputed the claim that mystical revelation was a source of knowledge. "The mystic," he wrote: "acquires his religious conviction precisely as his nonmystical neighbor does, namely through tradition and instruction, auto-suggestion grown habitual and reflective analysis. The mystic brings his theological beliefs to the mystical experience; he does not derive them from it" (Coe, 1952, p.131).

In "The Mystical as a Psychological Concept" (1909), Coe wrote that religious Knowledge, like knowledge generally, is the result of reflection upon experience and hence there is complete continuity between coming to know in religion and coming to know in any other area of life. In the last of the five, "Religious Value" (1908), Coe denied that there was any unique religious value; he asserted that values are continuous from the highest to the lowest. There is no value which cannot be religious and there is not one which is uniquely religious, i.e., unmixed with social or ethical meaning.

These five critical articles prepared the way for acceptance of the new progressive pedagogy. Cumulatively they challenged the claims of traditional church pedagogy that there were religious values to be learned from the mystical experience and specific religious knowledge to be gained from the Bible, and they rejected a pedagogy that relied upon supernatural intervention, i.e., conversion, to validate itself. These articles undermined the foundation of traditional Protestant pedagogy and created new criteria for the new discipline of religious education.

The new religious education would focus upon the continuity of religious growth from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, exclude the supernatural to make a place for purposeful life-long learning, introduce many resources other than the Bible into the curriculum, and require the critique of all values, social, economic, ethical and moral, since it was only in the refinement and integration of values into ever more inclusive values that religious values, by definition, could emerge (Coe, 1928).

The Years at Union (1909-1922)

When in the fall of 1909, Coe joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary as the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical theology and director of the Department of Religious Education, the mood of Union's social gospel circle was so expectant that to one incoming student "it seemed as if the kingdom was coming speedily." Just the year before the newly adopted Social Creed of the Methodist Church became the basis for the national organization, the Federal Council of Churches. The Creed called for "the mind of Christ" to be recognized as "the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social sins." A recently founded Protestant journal was given the confident title, The Christian Century.

Historians generally identify the period 1870-1918 as the formative period for the Social Gospel, a movement seeking the social transformation of industrial America through an appeal to the ancient biblical prophets who denounced oppression and called for social righteousness. Jesus' teachings too, were interpreted as a call for social transformation. One of Coe's classmates at Rochester, Walter Rauschenbusch, wrote the influential Christianity and the Social Crisis in 1905; and Harry S. Ward, his one-time student at Northwestern and later colleague at Union, wrote Social Evangelism in 1915.

Union was a congenial environment for Coe in 1909. It was at Union that Coe wrote his two major books, A Psychology of Religion (1916) and A Social Theory of Religious Education (1917). Coe dedicated The Psychology of Religion to "a very human person," which May be a veiled reference to his wife, who died suddenly in 1905, never remarrying, Coe remained devoted to her throughout his long life.

To know you is to behold the splendor of life and its mystery To know you is to discover that religious faith if it is possible is necessary How can I know you and still be without religious faith? Therefore to you I dedicate this study of the human Naturalness of religion The dedication carries a subtle allusion also to William James' argument in "The Will to Believe" that, because religion is necessary to us humans, it is possible (James, 1897).

However, for Coe, only if religion is possible within the limits of scientific reason, can one affirm its necessity. The Psychology of Religion was his attempt to establish a scientific claim for religion within the still new discipline of psychology.

Coe sought first for a methodology that would embrace all facts then known about the historical and psychological basis of religion but would not exhaust the potential of religion for present and future life by confining it within the categories of its original expression in primitive life. He argued that what religion was in the present and what it could be in the future was not to be circumscribed by what it had been in the past.

Coe was also suspicious of any methodological attempt to define religion in terms of specific content. Among his arguments for rejecting substantive definitions were the fluid character of religious content itself, the existence of Buddhism which lacked even a minimal god-idea, and his general opposition to an intellectualist position which assumes that religious ideas are self-sustaining logical entities independent of impulse and action. Coe also rejected definitions which reduced religion to feeling, he believed such subjectivist definitions were insufficient to explain the full impact of religion on human culture. He wanted a definition broad enough to organize all the knowledge about religion accumulated by anthropology, history, sociology and psychology.

He concluded that Edward S. Ames' functional definition of religion provided him with just such a flexible yet comprehensive definition. While others, who gave a functional definition to religion, retained an identification between religion and social values, Coe did not identify religion with social values or with any other particular values. He built upon Harald Hoffding's definition of religion as the conservation of values and went beyond it in his insistence that it was the function of religion so to criticize, refine and unify values that they became transformed into still higher values.

Coe's Psychologv made contributions to the field: he modified Emile Durkheim's thesis that the god-idea in primitive culture evolved out of the experienced social values of the clan by his own conclusion that in advanced stages of culture religion functions in such a way as to remake society according to values not yet experienced. He rejected instinct theory as then commonly taught, arguing that psychology became more scientific the further it moved form basing human behavior on instinct; he approved the more general approach of Edward Thorndike who asserted that while there were no determining instincts, there did exist what he called "the original tendencies of the original tendencies."

Throughout his Psychology Coe gave special attention to the personal self, a concept of immeasurable importance to him and one which symbolized the continuity of his thought with his earlier personalism. He did not believe his emphasis upon personal reals was in any way incompatible with a social psychological emphasis upon the self as a complementary concept arising out of the concept of "the other." Indeed, personalism's method of reconciling opposites such as the self and the other by referring to their mutuality in consciousness prepared him for an easy assimilation of William McDougall's social psychology. "Social communion" he wrote, "is the very experience that gives 'me' any meaning at all."

The next year, Coe's A Social Theory of Religious Education was published. Coe proposed "the democracy of God" as the social standard which best indicates the direction of Christian education. He wrote:

I use the term "democracy of God" in place of "kingdom of God," not because I desire to substitute a new social principle for that which Jesus taught, but because the idea of democracy is essential to a full appreciation of his teaching … his desire for a brotherhood of men leads on with the inevitableness of fate to the ideal of a democratic organization of human society, and … his fusion of divine with human love presents us with a divine-human democracy as a final social ideal… Must not Christians think of God as being within human society in the democratic manner of working, helping, sacrificing, persuading, cooperating, achieving? "My Father worketh even until now, and I work." Divine love, it appears, cannot realize itself anywhere but in a genuine industrial democracy. (Coe, 1917, p. 55)

These concerns led him to his summary definition: "Christian education is growth of the young toward and into mature and efficient devotion to the democracy of God and happy self-realization therein [italicized in the original]" (Coe, 1917, p. 55).

There is much in A Social Theory that will strike the contemporary reader as dated. Its theology and educational vision grew out of a particular epoch in Protestant liberal thought, and, when that epoch ended, its relevance became moot. Even Coe dropped all references to the democracy of God, when twelve years later in 1929, he published What is Christian Education? But at least in two areas A Social Theory offers a challenge to educators today.

Coe recognized the family as a uniquely significant social and educational institution. His chapter on the family considers everything from gender roles to children's allowances with insightful comments still pertinent to today's families.

A Social Theory also recognizes the teaching power that is inherent in the very distinctiveness of the church that teaches. The primary way in which a church identifies itself impacts how Christianity is understood and what kind of a Christian a person becomes. Coe identified five church types and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of each type for nurture. His assessment of the Catholic type (the sacramental/creedal/authoritarian type) was, on the whole, negative. Even though usually very evenhanded in his judgments, Coe in this instance is unable to appreciate any positives for nurture in this church type, a negative judgment inspired by the high value he placed upon democracy. He is more balanced in his treatment of what he called the dogmatic Protestant church type (usually called Fundamentalist today) because, in accepting the Bible as its standard rather than a creed, it was more flexible in teaching and more open to a source of self-correction. His comments on the shaping influence of ritualistic churches are balanced and still apt. Coe noted that Christian growth in ritualistic churches can be stunted if the learner comes through liturgical formation to identify with the church only and not with the social witness of the church.

Coe clearly favored the liberal church type, but he noted that its characteristic faults are complacency and lack of zeal, characteristics that it passed on to those it molded. He ranked the evangelical church type highly because of its communal emphasis upon experienced faith and its focus upon the individual.

While any typology is an abstraction and comparative rankings of abstractions are problematic at best, this section of A Social Theory can still challenge today's church educators who often ignore the social environment of the churches in which they serve. Coe's insistence that teaching is always done in a social context made him aware of the collateral learnings communicated by the very character of the church sponsoring the educational process.

The Years at Teachers College (1922-1927) and Retirement (1928-1951)

In 1922, Coe resigned from Union and accepted a position at Teachers College, Columbia, where for the next five years he enjoyed what he called the best teaching years of his life. He published two books while at Teachers College: Law and Freedom and What Ails Our Youth both in 1924.

Law and Freedom is an extended treatment of the statement in A Social Theory that "the educator within all education is society." WhatAils Our Youth explores the vital function rebelling youth play in the ongoing peaceful reconstruction of society. Since conventional youth fail to assist society in the reconstruction of its values, Coe made the claim that society has more to fear from youth who "rashly" accept the status quo than from youth who challenge the values of the establishment.

At his retirement banquet in 1927, he said he had come to the conclusion that he was most right when leaning most to the left. During the next twenty-five years of his retirement, he grew steadily more radical as his earlier hopes that the Social Gospel would transform society gave way to a more somber Marxist analysis.

In Motives of Men (1928), Coe rejected all theories - whether new and scientific like Freudianism or instinct theory or ancient and authoritative like original sin - which discredited the human capacity for disinterested and intelligent purpose. In Education for Citizenship (1932), he focused on what he called "the dark side" of the nation state as educator. He was apprehensive that the monopoly of the modern state in education was a potential danger to freedom of thought.

What is Christian Education? (1929) begins with Coe's assertion that he will use Christian education in a "homespun" way, meaning by it no more than a reference to the churches that call themselves Christian and to the education that goes on under their auspices. However, at the book's end, he does provide his own substantive definition in a "Coda" that inspired a new generation of religious educators.

"Christian education," he wrote: is the systematic, critical, examination and reconstruction of relations between persons, guided by Jesus' assumption that persons are of infinite worth, and by the hypothesis of the existence of God, the Great Valuer of Persons.

For many religious educators, this "Coda" May have been all they knew of Coe, but it was sufficient, for it summed up their understanding that the infinite worth of persons was joined to belief in God. Perhaps, too, the personalistic aspect of Coe's thought was always more congenial to the practitioners of religious education than his social analysis. When H. Shelton Smith published his major critique of the religious education movement in 1941, he castigated the individualism and subjectivity of the movement, qualities conspicuously missing form Coe's own theory and recommendations. Smith and other critics overlooked the fact that the Coe's chief contribution to the movement was his analysis of religious education from a social and scientific point of view. Coe's social psychology, his ethical interpretation of Christianity, his critique of mysticism, his functional view of religion and his economic determinism all should have turned religious education resolutely away from emphasis upon narrow individualism and religious subjectivity. If his influence did not, it must be that forces other than those deriving from the intellectual legacy of "the father of the religious education movement" worked their will upon the movement.

As Coe continued to develop the implications of the social meaning of the self throughout the 1930's and 40's, the individual became ever less autonomous. Marxist economic determinism more and more came to define his understanding of personal freedom to make value choices. With increasing emphasis, Coe insisted that economic conditions determine the value choices within which we both define personhood and discover the divine.

By the 1940's, the theological assault upon liberalism was growing in intensity. Challenged by the rising power of neo-orthodoxy (also called dialectical theology or sometimes neo-Reformation theology) in seminaries like Union in New York City and pulpits across the nation, liberals were losing confidence that their theology was the wave of the future and finding themselves increasingly isolated intellectually. Led by Karl Barth, neo-orthodoxy reversed all the liberal affirmation: it gloried in the discontinuity between humans and God, it decried human reason as self-serving and deceptive, it announced reliance upon the unique revelatory power of the Word of God.

Although Coe modified his personalism when he absorbed a socialist critique of individualism, he never modified his liberal theology in response to the Barthian critique. As the nation became conservative politically and economically following World War II, he turned left, even jeopardizing his moral leadership by his inability to distinguish between Stalinism and his life-long commitment to social justice. As theology turned right to recapture doctrinal legacies jettisoned by the liberals, Coe continued to march left, loyal to the drummers he'd heard in his youth at Boston and Berlin. When he died in November, 1951 at a retirement home for ministers in Claremont, California, he was an old liberal in a post-liberal age.

The dominance of neo-orthodoxy did not continue much beyond a decade after Coe's death, mainline theology splintered into many movements after the rise of liberation theology in the 60's. Peter Berger noted as early as 1968 that neo-orthodoxy was a short-term interruption of liberalism that functioned to disengage liberalism from eighteenth century rationalism and nineteenth century historicism.

Coe's life and work are at one level a cautionary tale: beware of being too relevant to one particular time for it is a truism that nothing dates as quickly as "relevance." But his lifework can also inspire; he left a legacy in the form of an agenda for anyone who came after him. How is it possible to open a place for religion within today's science and social sciences? Can religion be taught without an appeal to an authority which exempts itself from critique? How can teachers build upon the natural processes of physical, mental and social growth and still be open to that wind of the Spirit which blows where it will and whose direction no one can control? If he were alive in the twenty-first century, Coe would turn with relish to the challenge posed by such questions.

Contributions to Christian Education

As the leading Protestant liberal religious educator of the first half of the twentieth century, George Albert Coe pioneered the development of religious education as a discipline within the seminary and collegecurriculum, gave impetus to the laboratory school movement through his supervision of the model Union School of Religion from 1909 to 1922 and championed the use of closely graded curriculum in the Sunday schools.

Although these contributions helped indirectly to transform teaching in local churches, his claim to the title "great educator", like so many reformers in the history of education, rests almost exclusively upon his significant contributions to the development of education theory and not his actual experience or skill as a teacher (Archibald, 1975).

He devoted his career to developing a theory for religious education that integrated the new progressive pedagogy, the new psychology, and the social interpretation of Christianity, all of which were in their formative creative stage in the period from 1880 to the end of World War I. Coe's own educational experiences from 1884 to 1892 at Rochester, Boston and Berlin enabled him to appreciate how social themes long maturing within Christianity were complementing developments in the new social sciences.

He embraced the newly emerging consensus among liberal Protestants that the prophetic core of Christianity was its emphasis upon social justice. By 1909 he was identified with those in the Social Gospel movement. In his classic A Social Theory of Religious Education, written almost ten years later, he argued that only through participating in the work of social justice in their own times could person grow as Christians. There could be no true spirituality without the social dimension for, as he put it, "to know God, we must be socially intelligent; the special tasks of the present," he wrote, "are the call of God" (Coe, 1917, p. 72).

Coe inspired three generations of religious educators to develop patterns of nurture in liberal Protestant churches which would engage youth in a deliberate revaluation of social, economic and political values. He defined religious educations as the process by which intelligent love guided the formation and transformation of all values.

Coe once wrote that any individual is an incorporation of group sentiments and he himself well typified the group sentiments of liberal Protestantism. He is a link to a whole theological generation whose history illustrates his conclusion that the Christian conscience, by virtue of changes in the secular culture, undergoes many transformations and yet somehow remains recognizably Christian. His intellectual pilgrimage permits us to trace how many in the Protestant community, especially those in the religious education movement, assimilated the root ideas of science and the social sciences as they knew them, and allowed those ideas to re-fashion their theology. Like many of his generation, it was his educational experiences, which freed him from dogmatic and mystical Christianity. Having experienced themselves the revaluation of all their values, Coe and his contemporaries sought to place the valuational process at the center of all education (Woodie, 1955).

Beginning in 1900 and ending in 1943, Coe wrote fourteen books and his innumerable journal articles appeared regularly until 1950. He celebrated the cognitive, moral and social aspects of religion almost exclusively in these writings asserting that while the source of religious power might lie in non-cognitive forms of mystical experience, the tests of the usefulness of religion must always be social and public.

Works Cited

  • Archibald, H. A. (1975). George Albert Coe: Theorist for religious education in the twentieth century. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana -Champaign.
  • Coe, G. A. (1900). The spiritual life: Studies in the science of religion. New York: Eaton and Mains.
  • Coe, G. A. (April, 1904). The philosophy of the movement for religious education. The American Journal of Theology, 8, 225-239.
  • Coe, G. A. (January, 1908). The sources of the mystical revelation. Hibbert Journal, 359-372. Reprinted in Religious Education, 47, (March- April, 1952), 130-136.
  • Coe, G. A. (1917). A social theory of religious education. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1928). Burning issues. Religious Education, 23, 649-653.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). My own little theatre. In Vergilius Ferm (Ed.), Religion in Transition. New York: Macmillan Co.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). What is religion doing to our consciences? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • James, William. (1897). The will to believe and other essays in popular philosophy. New York: Longmans Green & Co. (pp. 295-327).
  • Woodie, N. B. (1955). George Albert Coe's concept of valuation applied to education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University.


Primary Sources

Coe left his private papers to Yale Divinity School; a portion of these papers, primarily letters and seminary minutes bearing upon his resignation in 1922 from Union Theological Seminary, were closed to scholars until 1977 at Coe's request. Coe's correspondence is filed in folders according to year; since Coe's style even in private letters was always impersonal and reticent, these letters give little information beyond what is more readily available in his books and articles.


  • Coe, G. A. (1900). The spiritual life: Studies in the science of religion. New York: Eaton and Mains.
  • Coe, G. A. (1902). The religion of a mature mind. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co.
  • Coe, G. A. (1904). Education in religion and morals. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co.
  • Coe, G. A. (1906). Sadie Knowland Coe: A chapter in a life privately printed.
  • Coe, G.A. (1906). Faith and science [Pamphlet]. ?:?.
  • Coe, G. A. ( 1912). The core of good teaching: A Sunday school curriculum. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1916). The psychology of religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Coe, G. A. (1917). A social theory of religious education. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1924). Law and freedom in the school: Can and cannot, must and must not, ought and ought not, in pupils projects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Coe, G. A. (1924). What ails our youth? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1928). Motives of men. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). What is Christian education? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). The home as an opportunity for peace education [Pamphlet]. Evanston, IL: Parent's Club, First Methodist Church.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Education for citizenship: The sovereign state as ruler and as teacher. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1932.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). Religious education at the crossroads [Pamphlet]. Boston: American Unitarian Association.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). What is religion doing to our consciences? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.Addresses:
  • Coe, G. A. (1909, November 16th). Can religion be taught? The Inauguration of George Albert Coe, Ph.D., LL.D., as Skinner and McAlpine Professor of Practical Theology. New York, NY: Union Theological Seminary.


  • Two hundred and fifty-three articles and sixty critical reviews by Coe are arranged chronologically in Religious Education, 47, pp.116-125. In most cases some information needed to put the entries in full APA formatting is missing. The information provided should be enough to assist the researcher in locating the articles. Our apologies for not being able to provide the full entry data.
  • Coe, G.A. (1896). The theoretical and practical. Methodist Review, May, 394-402.
  • Coe, G.A. (1898). Religious experience and the scientific movement. In ? (Ed.), The Church and Christian Experience (pp. ?) Chicago:?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1898). Theory of knowledge and theism. Methodist Review, Jan., 68-76.
  • Coe, G.A. (1898). The morbid conscience of adolescents. Transactions of the Illinois Society for Child Study, ?, 97-108.
  • Coe, G.A. (1899). The religious problem in colleges. Northwestern, Apr., 1-4.
  • Coe, G.A. (1899). Necessity and limitations of anthropomorphism. New World, Sept., 447-60.
  • Coe, G.A. (1899). A study in the dynamics of personal religion. Psychological Review, Sept., 484-505.
  • Coe, G.A. (1900). The Spook family; Or obscure mental phenomena. Chautauqua Assembly Herald, July, ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1900). Modern ideas of religious nurture. Congregationalist, Dec., 791-92.
  • Coe, G.A. (1901). The philosophy of play. Kindergarten Magazine, Feb., 356-63.
  • Coe, G.A. (1901). Religious nurture of the city child. Christian Examiner, May, 97-103.
  • Coe, G.A. (1901). Methods of studying religion. Methodist Review, July-Aug., 532-47.
  • Coe, G.A. (1903). Adolescence: The religious point of view. Journal of Childhood and Adolescence, Jan., 14-22.
  • Coe, G.A. (1903). The new era in religious education. Standard, Feb., ?. (Also published in New York Observer and Northwestern Christian Advocate).
  • Coe, G.A. (1903). Religious education as a part of general education. Biblical World, ?, 440-46. (Also published in (1903). Proceedings of the Religious Education Association,; (1903). Kindergarten Magazine; (1903). Review of Catholic Pedagogy.
  • Coe, G.A. (1903). Contributions of modern education to religion. Proceedings of the National Education Association, ?, 341-345. (Also published in (1904). Catholic Review of Reviews).
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). Religion as a factor in individual and social development. Biblical World, Jan., 37-47.
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). Present emergency in religious education. Zions Herald, Jan., ?. (Also published in Congregationalist; Standard; Presbyterian Journal and Western Christian Advocate).
  • Coe, G. A. (1904). The philosophy of the movement for religious education. The American Journal of Theology, 8, 225-239.
  • Coe, G.A. (1904) The outlook for personal religion. Congregationalist, May, 641-642. (Also published in Christian World).
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). What May the public high schools do for the moral and religious training of its pupils? National Conference on Secondary Education and its Problems, ?, 153-163.
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). The Bible in the public schools. Proceedings of the National Congress of Mothers, ?, 35-38. (Also published in School and Home Education, ?, 383-387).
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). The reason and the functions of general religious education. In ? (Ed.), International Congress of Arts and Sciences (pp. 271-281) St. Louis, MO: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1904). Religious education in the college. Journal of the Illinois State Teachers Association, Dec., 118-125.
  • Coe, G.A. (1905). The religious spirit in the secondary school. School Review, Oct., 581-596.
  • Coe, G.A. (1905). The crisis in Methodism. Outlook, Nov., 933-935.
  • Coe, G.A. (1906). Personality in religious teaching. Homiletic Review, Sept., 204-206.
  • Coe, G.A. (1906). What should the high school do in the way of moral thinking. Journal of the Illinois State Teachers Association, Dec., 123-127.
  • Coe, G.A. (1907). The content of the gospel message to the men of today. Homiletic Review, Sept., 223-226. (Also published in (1907). In ? (Ed.), Materials of Religious Education (pp. 173-179). Chicago: ?).
  • Coe, G.A. (1907). The subconscious. Methodist Review, Oct., 765-773.
  • Coe, G.A. (1907). The young people's society as a school. Homiletic Review, Oct., 280-282.
  • Coe, G.A. (1907?). Adolescence. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 1, pp. 101-103). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1907). The distinction between morals and religion. Religious Education, Dec., 161-163.
  • Coe, G. A. (1908). The sources of the mystical revelation. Hibbert Journal, 359-372. Reprinted in (1952). Religious Education, 47, 130-136.
  • Coe, G.A. (1908). The relation of mysticism to education. Quarterly Bulletin of the Meadville Theological Seminary, Mar., 16-28.
  • Coe, G. A. (1908). What is pragmatism? Methodist Ouarterly Review, 42, 211-219.
  • Coe, G.A. (1908). The relation of pragmatism to education. Quarterly Bulletin of the Meadville Theological Seminary, Mar., 10-22.
  • Coe, G. A. (1908). Religious value. Journal of Psychology, ?, 253-256.Coe, G.A. (1908). What does modern psychology permit us to believe in respect to regeneration? American Journal of Theology, July, 353-368.
  • Coe, G.A. (1908). Moral and religious education from the psychological point of view. Religious Education, Dec., 165- 179.
  • Coe, G.A. (1909). Annual survey of progress in religious and moral education. Religious Education, Apr., 722ff.
  • Coe, G. A. (1909). The mystical as a psychological concept. Journal of Psychology and Scientific Method, 197-202.
  • Coe, G.A. (1909). Psychological aspects of religious education. Psychological Bulletin, June, 15-97.
  • Coe, G.A. (1909). Religion and the subconscious. American Journal of Theology, July, 337-349.
  • Coe, G.A. (1910), Christianity and social ideals. Homiletic Review, Feb., 105-109.
  • Coe, G.A. (1910). Notes on the recent census of religious bodies. American Journal of Sociology, May, 806-809.
  • Coe, G. A. (1910). Obituary: Borden Parker Bowne. Journal of Philosophy, 7, 281-282.
  • Coe, G.A. (1910?) Childhood. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 3, pp. 518-21). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1910). Borden Parker Bowne. The Methodist Review, 92, 513-524.
  • Coe, G.A. (1910). The responsibility of the college for the student as an individual. Religious Education, Oct., 302-306.
  • Coe, G.A. (1911). The modern idea of God. Religious Education, June, 191-206.
  • Coe, G.A. (1911). The idea of God. Religious Education, June, 175-184.
  • Coe, G.A. (1911 ). The training of teachers for graded schools. Sunday School Journal, Dec., 884-886.
  • Coe, G.A. (1911). Virtue and the virtues: A study of method in the teaching of morals. Proceedings of the National Education Association, 419-425. (Also published in (1912). Religious Education, Jan., 485-492).
  • Coe, G.A. (1912). The vitality of the Christian religion. Homiletic Review, Feb., 91-94.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912). The nature and scope of church leadership in the field of education from the Sunday school viewpoint. Religious Education, Apr., 69-72.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912). The distinguishing mark of a Christian. American Journal of Theology, Apr., 256-267.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912). The laboratory method in the department of religious education. Religious Education, Oct., 420-424.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912?). Religious Education. In P. Monroe (Ed.), Cyclopaedia of Education (Vol. 5, pp. 145-50). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912?). Educational status of Sunday schools in the United States. In P. Monroe (Ed.), Cyclopaedia of Education (Vol. 5, 452-462). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912?). Growth, moral and religious. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 6, pp. 445-450). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912?). Infancy. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 7, pp. 278-279). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1912). Moral instruction and training in the Sunday schools of America. Second International Moral Education Congress, ?, 64-68.
  • Coe, G.A. (1913). Moral education in the Sunday school. Religious Education, Oct., 313-319.
  • Coe, G.A. (1914). Origin and nature of children's faith in God. American Journal of Theology, Apr., 169-190.
  • Coe, G.A. (1914). A scheme for constructive observation work in Sunday school. Religious Education, Dec., 561-571. (Also published in (1919). Religious Education, Apr., 95-103).
  • Coe, G.A. (1911-1914). The challenge of the Sunday school to the college. In ? (Ed.), Organized Sunday School Work in America (pp. 284-286). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1915). On having friends. Journal of Philosophy, 155-161. Reprinted in (1952). Religious Education, 47, 142-145.
  • Coe, G.A. (1915). A proposed classification of mental functions. Psychological Review, Mar., 87-98.
  • Coe, G.A. (1915). The administration of religious education in a parish. Religious Education, June, 274-279.
  • Coe, G.A. (1915). Why do ministers want Billy Sunday? Congregationalist, Sept., ?. (Also in Christian World).
  • Coe, G.A. (1915?). Morbidness. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 8, pp. 841-842). ?: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1915). The scientific point of view within the church. Religious Education, Oct., 449-454.
  • Coe, G.A. (1915). Recent publications on mysticism. Psychological Bulletin, Dec., 459-462.
  • Coe, G.A. (1916). A general view of the movement for correlation of religious education with public instruction. Religious Education, Apr., 9-22.
  • Coe, G.A. (1916). Contemporary ideals in religion. Religious Education, Oct., 377-387.
  • Coe, G.A. (1916). Contemporary ideals in religion. Religious Education, Oct., 377-387. (Also published in (1919). In ? (Ed.), Ideals of America (pp. 239-59) Chicago: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1917). How is instruction in 'religious education' related to instruction in 'general education'? Religious Education, Apr., 123-128.
  • Coe, G.A. (1917). Observing ones' own teaching. Graded Sunday School Magazine, Sept., 487-489.
  • Coe, G.A. (1917). Essentials for a successful solution of the problem of religious education. Christian Advocate, Dec., ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1918). The functions of children in the community. Religious Education, Feb., 26-32.
  • Coe, G.A. (1918). The church's message for the coming time. Homiletic Review, Mar., ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1918). What are the motives under which men cooperate today. Religious Education, June, 171-179.
  • Coe, G. A. (1919). Do you really believe in religious education? Religious Education 14, 5-11.
  • Coe, G.A. (1919). The nature of discipline for democracy. Religious Education, June, 136-146.
  • Coe, G.A. (1919). The next step, and what it will cost. Religious Education, Oct., 298-304.
  • Coe, G.A. (1919). The next step in religious education. Christian Century, Dec., 9-12.
  • Coe, G.A. (1920). The psychology of religion. Psychological bulletin, Mar., 95-102.
  • Coe, G.A. (1920). Policies for college instruction in religious education. Religious Education, June, 167-172.
  • Coe, G.A. (1920). The pupils motives in learning. Sunday School Journal, Oct., 591ff.
  • Coe, G. A. (1921). The religious breakdown of the ministry. Journal of Religion, 1,18-29.
  • Coe, G. A. (February, 1921). The functions of children in society. Religious Education 16, 29-36.
  • Coe, G.A. (1922). The minister as an educator. Western Christian Advocate, Feb., 12. (Also published in (1922). Zions Herald, Feb., 207-208).
  • Coe, G.A. (1922). Opposing theories of the curriculum. Religious Education, Apr., 143-510.
  • Coe, G.A. (1922). The empirical factor in Bowne's thinking. In E.C. Wilm (Ed.), Studies in Philosophy and Theology (pp. 380-83). New York: ?. (Also published in (1922). Methodist Review, 380-383).
  • Coe, G.A. (1922). How to teach the world brotherhood through the church school. Missionary Education, May, 117-118.
  • Coe, G.A. (1922). Religious education and political conscience. Teachers College Record, Sept., 297-304. (Also published in Religious Education, Dec., 430-435).
  • Coe, G.A. (1923). Religious education and the problem of Christian missions. International Review of Missions, Jan., 72-81.
  • Coe, G.A. (1923). Who is enriched by the enrichment of worship? Journal of Religion, Jan., 22-33.
  • Coe, G.A.(1923). The next ten years in the field of religious education. Sunday School Journal, Apr., 207-209.
  • Coe, G. A. (1923). What is religious education? Religious Education, 18, 92-95.
  • Coe, G.A. (1923). Shall we manufacture our curriculum, or grow it. Sunday School Journal, Aug., 458-460.
  • Coe, G.A. (1923). Mt. Cope's unique contribution to our generation. Religious Education, ?, 262-267.
  • Coe, G. A. (1924). Educating toward peace. Religious Education, 19, 318-321.
  • Coe, G.A. (1924). Shifting the national mindset. World Tomorrow, ?, 42-43. (Also published in (1923). Religious Education, Oct., 318-321).
  • Coe, G.A. (1924). The teaching work of the church. Homiletic Review, July, 15-17.
  • Coe, G.A. (1924). Shall we teach our children our social ideals? World Tomorrow, Sept., 277-278.
  • Coe, G.A. (1924). Youth and peace. Scribner's Magazine, ?, 8-13. (Also published in (1926). In O. Shepard (Ed.) Essays of 1925 (pp. 65-76). Hartford: ?).
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). Youth and the church. Christian Advocate, ?, 489-490.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). Are we keeping pace with the population. Sunday School Journal, 11, ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). What ails the parents? Congregationalist, ?, 776-777.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). What makes the character grow. New York Teacher, June, 2-3.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). Our changing morals. Christian Century, July, 920-921.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). The problem of standards in Christian education. International Journal of Religious Education. Dec., 10-12.
  • Coe, G.A. (1925). A Christian use for the fighting instinct. Sunday School Journal, ?, 716-717.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Shall we scrap the Sunday school. Church School Journal, ?, 70-71.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Evanston (Interdenominational Conference, Dec. 29- Jan.1). Intercollegian, Feb., 148.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). The week-day problem: Some prior questions. Religious Education, Feb., 35-36.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). The Evanston student conference. Religious Education, Feb., 102-107.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). These are the young! New Republic, Apr., 228.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Problematic factors in the concept of moral education. School and Society, Apr., 505-509.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). What constitutes a scientific interpretation of religion? Journal of Religion, May, 225-235.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Is religion uniting or separating us? In ? (Ed.), Concerning Parents: A Symposium on Present Day Parenthood (pp.257-264). New York:?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Psychology and the scientific study of religion and Christian faith in the light of psychology. In ? (Ed.), An Outline of Christianity (Vol 4, pp. 95-128). New York: ?.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Training citizens- for what? World Tomorrow, Oct., 151-154.
  • Coe, G.A. (1926). Why the dissatisfaction with existing curricula? Religious Education, Dec., 567-574.
  • Coe, G. A. (1927). What ails our conference? Intercollegian, Mar. 159-160.
  • Coe, G. A. (1927). What do professors of secondary education think of military training in high schools? School and Society, Aug., 174-178.
  • Coe, G. A. (1927). The public mind. In ? (Ed.), Religion and Public Affairs (Ch. 8). New York: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1928). Race relations: Where lies the difficulty? International Journal of Religious Education, July, 9-10.
  • Coe, G. A. (1928). Burning issues. Religious Education, 23, 649-653.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). The church a war-maker? Christian Advocate, July, 842-843.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). Academic liberty in denominational colleges. School and Society, Nov., 678-680.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). Pratt vs. Ames: The dilemma of the teacher of religion. Religious Education, Nov., 879-892.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). By-products of the college classroom. In ? (Ed.), Am I Getting an Education? (pp. 5-13). New York: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). The meeting of minds. Religious Education, Feb., 102-104.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). The twilight of Christianity. World Tomorrow, Feb., ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). What happens when we worship? Religious Education, Apr., 299-302.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). Character as end and process. Progressive Education, May, 160-163.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). The comparative responsibility for preacher and layman for the economic order. Zion's Herald, June, 802, 816.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). The actual and desirable continuity within social changes. Religious Education, June, 495-499.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). What makes a college Christian? Christian Education, Oct., 8-15.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). The war department as educator [Pamphlet]. Committee on Militarism in Education, Nov., ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). What's coming in religion? The mainstream and the eddies. Christian Century, Dec., 1619-1622.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). Building a Christian social order through religious education. In ? (Ed.), Go Teach (pp. 123-126). Chicago: International Council of Religious Education.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). Personal Religion in the control of conduct. In ? (Ed.), Religion and Conduct (pp. 61-66). New York: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). Educating for peace and not for war. World Tomorrow, Nov., 360-361.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). The god of war as professor of morals. Adult Bible Class Monthly, Nov., 385-386
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). Is character education a function of the federal government? Religious Education, Dec., 793-799.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). Let us be intelligent. In ? (Ed.), Education Adequate for Modern Times (pp. 69-78). New York: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). A realistic view of death. In Douglas Clyde Macintosh (Ed.), Religious Realism (?). New York: Macmillan Co.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Let us disinfect our minds. Christian Advocate, May, 475.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). The social value of prayer and worship. World Tomorrow, June, 175-177.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Why religion is anxious. World Tomorrow, Oct., 326-327.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). The alleged slump in morals. World Tomorrow, Oct., 368.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). What is violence? World Tomorrow, Oct., 378-380.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Resolutions and resoluteness. World Tomorrow, Nov., 423.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Capitalism binds men. World Tomorrow, Nov., 493-494.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). What is an experience curriculum? International Journal of Religious Education, Dec., 9,38.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Medicine unbound. World Tomorrow, Dec., 570-571.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). Medicine in economic bondage. St. Louis-Dispatch, ?, ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Hysterical merchandising. World Tomorrow, Jan., 14-15.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Two kinds of coercion. World Tomorrow, Feb., 177-179.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Shall we indoctrinate? Progressive Education, Mar., 140-143.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Coe vs. Niebhur: An exchange of letters regarding the latter's moral man and immoral society. Christian Century, Mar., 362-364.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Motives for a new order. World Tomorrow, Apr., 349-351.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). What capitalism does to Protestantism. World Tomorrow, Apr., 374-375.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). At last the city of God? World Tomorrow, May, ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Who is responsible for health. World Tomorrow, Aug., 468-469.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). What has caused the distress of our schools? School and Society, Nov., 676-678.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). Christian social action. World Tomorrow, Nov., 640-641.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Some unfinished tasks of the religious education association. Religious Education, Jan., 3-8.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Students as conscientious objectors. Zion's Herald, Jan. 3, 5.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Military science in colleges and high schools. Intercollegian, Feb., 69-71.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). End poverty in California. World Tomorrow, Mar., 159-160.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Is there a really good curriculum? Religious Education, Apr., 101-103.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). The future of Phi Beta Kappa. School and Society, May, 569-570.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Making the most of our abiltiy to read. Volta Review, July, 423-424.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). What is an experience curriculum? International Journal of Religious Education, Sept., 7,34.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). Militarism in education. Fight, Oct., 4.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). If I were a heathen. Women's Missionary Friend, Jan., 11-12.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Education as social enginering. Social Frontier, Apr., 25-27.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Blue prints for teachers. Social Frontier, Apr. 26-27.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Is a united front against war desirable. Christian Advocate, Pacific Edition, Apr., 4-5.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). When pacifism turns sectarian. Christian Century, Apr., 429-430.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Science- Dictator or cooperator. Social Frontier, May, 3-4.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). What sort of school is a CCC camp? Social Frontier, May, 24-26.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Putting teeth into the social studies. Religious Education, July, 66-71.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). Violence? The ethics of revolution. Canadian Forum, Dec., 391-393.
  • Coe, G. A. (1935). The educational frontier of the churches. Social Frontier, Dec., 80-82.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). The elusiveness of 'religion.' Religious Education, Jan., 43-45.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). Labor unrest at Columbia university. School and Society, Jan. 18, 93-94.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). The religious outlook of the world today. Religious Education, Apr., 85-90.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). The Nazi inferiority complex. The Fight Against War and Fascism, May, 22-23, 29.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). Intelligence is enough. Social Frontier, May, 240.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). Those class-conscious proletarians! Zion's Herald, July, 632-633.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). Defending Democracy. Social Frontier, Oct., 10.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). What does 'education' mean to freshmen? Intercollegian, Oct., 3-4.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). What might be done for our country by united action of teachers. Arizona Teacher, Dec., 93-95.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). A new type of college teaching. School and Society, Mar., 333-334.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). Religious education at the crossroads. Christian Register, June, 399-401. (Also published in June, 419-420).
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). Minor political parties. Social Frontier, June, 271-272.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). What should educators do about alcohol? International Journal of Religious Education, Oct., 9, 38.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). What education for peace could accomplish. International Journal of Religious Education, Nov., 8-9.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). My own little theatre. In Vergilius Ferm (Ed.), Religion in Transition. (?). New York: Macmillan Co.
  • Coe, G. A. (1938). Emergent democracy: 1932-1938. School and Society, June, 752-755.
  • Coe, G. A. (1938). Ecclesiastical authority in a democracy. Social Frontier, July, 312-316.
  • Coe, G. A. (1938). Education is for something. Intercollegian, Jan., 59-60.
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). Religious education in peril. International Journal of Religious Education, July, 10-11.
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). The assault upon liberalism. Religious Education 34, 85-92. (Also reprinted in Religious Education, 47, ?).
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). More theologizing in the church school? Yes! International Journal of Religious Education, July, 10-11
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). Congregation and the ecumenical movement. Advance, Aug., 353-354.
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). Democracy also confronts the church. Christendom,?, 555-564.
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). A theology relevant to religious education. Religious Education, Oct.- Dec., 195-199.Coe, G. A. (1940). The high school R.O.T.C. if not, why not? Church Woman, Jan., 7-9.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). Shall the state teach religion? School and Society, Feb., 129-133.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). Do we want a classless society? Christian Century, Feb., 243-245.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). Religion, education, democracy. Religious Education, July- Sept., 131-137.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). The crux of our problem. Religious Education, July- Sept., 152-157.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). The 'if' in your education. Intercollegian, Nov., 32-34.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). What sort of religion. International Journal of Religious Education, Nov., 13-14.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). A public policy needed. Frontiers of Democracy, Dec., 73-75.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). The definitive Dewey. Religious Education, 35, 45-50.
  • Coe, G. A. (1941). Honoring doctor Ames. Religious Education, Jan.- Mar., 24-27.
  • Coe, G. A. (1941). Democratic method of teaching is essential. Can religion itself trust democracy? Should the public schools promote Sectarian loyalties? Is not democracy in religion itself implicit in Christianity? International Journal of Religious Education, Sept., 36; Oct., 34; Nov., 18; Dec., 4. (Note: These four articles constitute Dr. Coe's contribution to a discussion carreid on with Dr. F. Ernest Johnson)
  • Coe, G. A. (1941). The factual content of preaching. Scroll, Oct., 33-35.
  • Coe, G. A. (1941). Teaching the truth about private profits. School and Society, Oct., 343-347.
  • Coe, G. A. (1942). For such a time as this. Religious Education, May- June, 131-137.
  • Coe, G. A. (1942). Our waning religious liberties. Christian Century, June, 806-807.
  • Coe, G. A. (1942). The next fifteen years: Clarification of intention. International Journal of Religious Education, Oct., 4.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). 'Bottleneck' in religion. Religious Education, Jan.- Feb., 10-14.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). A new perspective in religious education is necessitated by the war. In ? (Ed.), Religious Education Series (Bulletin No. 55). Boston: American Unitarian Association.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). Postwar pupil experience in axis countries. School and Society, Sept., 177-180.
  • Coe, G. A. (1944). What is this freedom of conscience? Christian Century, Jan., 43-45.
  • Coe, G. A. (1944). Guilt. Christendom, Spring, 172-180.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). The religious education movement in retrospect. Religious Education, July- Aug., 220-224.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). The strategy of the religious education association. Religious Education, Mar.- Apr., 65-66.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). What kind of military instruction? Educational Administration and Supervision, Mar., 129-140.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). A tonic for Christian morals. Religion in Life, Spring, 1-6.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). Your solemn assemblies. Social Questions Bulletin, Dec., 3.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). Religion as a factor in cultural harmony and disharmony. In ? (Ed), Education for Cultural Unity, 17th Yearbook of the California Elementary School Principals' Association (?). Oakland, CA: ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1946). The alleged menace of secularism. Protestant, Mar.- Apr., 26-28.
  • Coe, G. A. (1946). Mr. Dulls and the federal council. World Community, Dec., 1-4.
  • Coe, G. A. (1947). American relations with the Soviets. Churchman, Jan., 11-12.
  • Coe, G. A. (1947). Evaluation of 'The relation of religion to public education.' Religious Education, May- June, 165-166.
  • Coe, G. A. (1947). Religious authoritarianism in our national culture. Religious Education, Nov.- Dec., 321-326.
  • Coe, G. A. (1948). The great 'if' in our Christian ethics. Zion's Herald, Sept., 915-917.
  • Coe, G. A. (1949). The word 'religion'. School and Society, July, 17-19.
  • Coe, G. A. (1948). The United nations philosophy of education. School and Society, Sept., 177-180.
  • Coe, G. A. (1950). Beneath our conflicting ideologies. Christian Century, Jan., 10-12.
  • Coe, G. A. (1951). Euthanasia? The issue's core. Churchman, 12-13. (Also reprinted in Religious Education, 47, 168-169).
  • Coe, G. A. (1951). The religious education association and the faiths. Religious Education, Mar.- Apr., 74-75.
  • Coe, G. A. (1951). On life, work and influence: An appreciation of Harrison S. Elliot. Religious Education, Sept.- Oct., 264.
  • Coe, G. A. (1952). My search for what is most worthwhile. Religious Education, 47, 170-176.

Critical Reviews:

  • Coe, G. A. (1898). [Review of the book The evolution of the idea of God]. Philosophical Review, Mar., 210-213.
  • Coe, G. A. (1898). [Review of the book Die wechselwirkung zwischen Lieb und Seele]. Philosophical Review, ?, 323-325.
  • Coe, G. A. (1898). [Review of the book Citizenship and salvation; or Greek and Jew]. Philosophical Review, ?, 664-665.
  • Coe, G. A. (1898?). [Review of the book Theory of thought and knowledge]. Mind, ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1899). [Review of the book A brief introduction of modern philosophy]. Philosophical Review, Sept., 555-556.
  • Coe, G. A. (1899). [Review of the book A theory of reality]. Philosophical Review, Nov., 627-632.
  • Coe, G. A. (1900). [Review of the book Psychology of religion]. Science, ?, 863f. (Also published in Philosophical Review, Sept., 555-556.)
  • Coe, G. A. (1902). [Review of the book Les dilemmes de la metaphysique pure and Histoire et solution des problemes metaphysiques]. Philosophical Review, Jan., 94-95.
  • Coe, G. A. (1902?). [Review of the book Les maldies du sentiment religieux]. Philosophical Review, ?, ?. (Also published in American Journal of Theology).
  • Coe, G. A. (1902). [Review of the book Theologie und metaphysik]. Philosophical Review, July, 431-433.
  • Coe, G. A. (1903). [Review of the book Psychological elements of religious faith]. American Journal of Theology, ?, ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1903). [Review of the book Varieties of religious experience]. Philosophical Review, Jan., 62-67.
  • Coe, G. A. (1905). [Review of the book Beurage zur eligiosen psychologie: psychobiologie und gefuhl]. Philosophical Review, July, 487-491.
  • Coe, G. A. (1906). [Review of the book The philosophy of religion]. Philosophic Review, Sept., 528-536.
  • Coe, G. A. (1910). [Review of the book Studies in mystical religion]. American Journal of Theology, Jan., 131-133. (Also published in 1910. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method, ?, 667-668.)
  • Coe, G. A. (1910). [Review of the book The development of religion]. Harvard Theological Review, July, 366-372.
  • Coe, G. A. (1911). [Review of the book The psychology of the religious life]. Philosophical Review, Nov., 676-683.
  • Coe, G. A. (1912). [Review of the book Psychology of the religious experience]. American Journal of Theology, Apr., 301-308.
  • Coe, G. A. (1913). [Review of the book The meaning of God in human experience]. Psychological Bulletin, May, 202-205.
  • Coe, G. A. (1914). [Review of the book Pragmatism and idealism]. Chicago Evening Post, Jan., ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1919). [Review of the book War and the ideal of peace]. Journal of Philosophy, Aug., ?.
  • Coe, G. A. (1919). [Review of the book The next step in religion]. Journal of Philosophy, ?, 248-250.
  • Coe, G. A. (1919). [Review of the book Religious education and American democracy]. Harvard theological Review, ?, 233-235.
  • Coe, G. A. (1921). [Review of the book The religious consciousness]. Religious education, Dec., 351-53. (Also published in Journal of Philosophy, Mar., 160-163)
  • Coe, G. A. (1921). [Review of the book The psychology of adolescence]. Methodist Review, ?, 486-488.
  • Coe, G. A. (1924). [Review of the book Education for moral growth]. Religious Education, Feb., 58-62.
  • Coe, G. A. (1925). [Review of the book Love in children aberrations]. Religious Education, ?, 242.
  • Coe, G. A. (1925). [Review of the book Method in teaching religion]. Religious Education, ?, 322-323.
  • Coe, G. A. (1926). [Review of the book The curriculum of religious education]. Church School Journal, July, 344.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). [Review of the book The character education: A program for the school and the home]. Religious Education, Feb., 180-181.
  • Coe, G. A. (1930). [Review of the book Character through creative experience]. Journal of Religion, Oct., 625-628.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). [Review of the book Helping people grow: An application of educational principles to Christian work abroad]. Christian Century, June, 746.
  • Coe, G. A. (1931). [Review of the book Private and public secondary education]. Religious Education, Sept., 575-577.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). [Review of the book Report of the commission on social studies part 1]. Religious Education, Sept., 641-642.
  • Coe, G. A. (1932). [Review of the book Tenth yearbook (on character education)]. Religious Education, Sept., 643-645.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). [Review of the book Character in human relations]. Progressive Education, Feb., 112-114.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). [Review of the book Dare the school build a new social order [Pamphlet] ]. Religious Education, Feb., 114-115.
  • Coe, G. A. (1933). [Review of the book The educational frontier]. Religious Education, Oct., 326-329.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). [Review of the book The character emphasis in education]. Religious Education, Jan., 76.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). [Review of the book The highway to heaven series]. Religious Education, Jan., 93-94.
  • Coe, G. A. (1934). [Review of the book Intolerance]. Christian Century, Nov., 1489-1480.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). [Review of the books Things that are Caesar's: Christian faith and economic change: Religion in the modern state]. Religious Education, Oct., 302-304.
  • Coe, G. A. (1936). [Review of the book The promise of American politics]. Religious Education, Oct., 310-313.
  • Coe, G. A. (1937). [Review of the book Exploration of the inner world] Christian Century, Feb., 136.
  • Coe, G. A. (1938). [Review of the books The crisis of civilization: The end of democracy: American socialism: Its aims and practical program]. Religious Education, July- Sept., 169-171.
  • Coe, G. A. (1938). [Review of the book The American legion as educator]. Educational Trends, Oct.- Nov., 20-21.
  • Coe, G. A. (1939). [Review of the book Social religion: Revolutionary Christianity]. Religious Education, Oct.- Sept., 248.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). [Review of the book The philosophy of John Dewey]. Religious Education, Jan- March, 45-50.
  • Coe, G. A. (1940). [Review of the book Can religious education be Christian?]. Religious Education, Oct.- Dec., 238-239.
  • Coe, G. A. (1941). [Review of the book The American colleges and the social order]. Religious Education, Jan.- Mar., 54-56.
  • Coe, G. A. (1942). [Review of the books Foundation heads of freedom: The growth of the Democratic idea]. Religious Education, July- Aug., 242-244.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). [Review of the book Christianity and social order]. Religious Education, Jan.- Feb., 62-64.
  • Coe, G. A. (1943). [Review of the book Christ and Christian education]. Religion and Life, Autumn, 631-634.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). [Review of the book The new education and religion: A challenge to secularism in education]. Religious Education, May- June, 180-183.
  • Coe, G. A. (1945). [Review of the book Christianity and the cultural crisis]. Religious Education, Sept.- Oct., 304-306.
  • Coe, G. A. (1947). [Review of the book A functional approach to religious education]. Journal of Religion, Oct., 296-297.
  • Coe, G. A. (1950). [Review of the article Religious education for liberal progressives]. Religious Education, March- April, ?.
  • The best source for information on the founding of the Religious Education Association is the Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Religious Education Association, Chicago, Executive Office, Religious Education Association, 1903. The Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting 1904, is also a useful source of information.Memorial Issues:
  • Two memorial issues of the journal published by the Religious Education Association are particularly rich in information about the career of George Albert Coe:
  • Coe, G. A. (1927). School's out' for George Albert Coe. Religious Education, 22, 419-447.
  • This supplement contains appreciative essays of Coe's contributions to religious education up to the time of his retirement from Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Coe, G. A. (March-April, 1952). Religious Education, 47, 67-115. A special posthumous memorial containing personal reminiscences and critical reviews of Coe's career and a full bibliography of his published works.Secondary Sources

Publications about George Albert Coe:

  • Cauthen, K. (1962). The impact of American religious liberalism with a foreword by Jaroslav Pelikan. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Cully, K. B. (1965). The search for a Christian education - Since 1940. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
  • Smith, H. S. (1941). Faith and nurture. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Archibald, H. A. (1978). George Albert Coe: The years from 1920-1951. Religious Education, 73, 25-35.
  • Hicks, J. E. (2000). Moral formation in mainline Protestantism: A history of the Union School of Religion. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 54, 85-105.
  • Keeney, B. (1981). The quest for balance in Christian education. Journal of Christian Education, 2, 45-50.
  • Lynn, R. W. (January, 1966). Religious educators: Their vision of polity and education. Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 22, 145-159.
  • Lynn, R. W. (March-April, 1972). The uses of history: An inquiry into the history of American religious educators. Religious Education, 67, 83-97.
  • Moore, A. J. (Summer, 1987). A social theory of religious education. Religious Education, 82, 415-425.
  • Parker, H. H. (Fall, 1991). The Union School of Religion, 1910-1929: Embers from the fires of progressivism. Religious Education 86, 597-607.
  • Osmer, R. R. and Schweitzer, F. (1997). Religious education and Reform movements in the United States and in Germany as a paradigmatic response to modernization. International Journal of Practical Theology, 1, 227-254.
  • Stevens, M. (Winter, 1987). Rethinking George Albert Coe. Religious Education, 82, 115-126.
  • Warren, H. A. (Winter, 1997). Character, public schooling, and religious education, 1920-1934. Religion and American Culture, 7, 61-80.Dissertations:
  • Archibald, H. A. (1975). George Albert Coe: Theorist for Religious Education in the Twentieth Century. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana, Champaign.
  • Bremer, D. H. (1949). George Albert Coe's contribution to the psychology of religion. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
  • Haney, J. C., Jr. (1959). A critical comparison of the educational philosophy of John Dewey and George Albert Coe. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
  • Hunter, C. V. (1956). A critical analysis of George A. Coe's social theory of religious education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Luff School of Theology, Denver.
  • Jones, M. J. (1957). The place of God in the educational process according to George A. Coe, William Clayton Bower and Harrison S. Elliott. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University.
  • Pittman, R. H. (1946).The meaning of salvation in the thought of George A. Coe, William Clayton Bower and George Herman Betts. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California.
  • Richey, M. S. (1954). Conceptions of man in the thought of George A. Coe and William Clayton Bower. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Duke University.
  • Tippan, B.A. (1989). Transition in twentieth century religious education: An intellectual history of the succession of five professors of religious education at Union Theological Seminary in New York. (Doctoral dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1989).
  • Woodie, N. B. (1955). George Albert Coe's concept of valuation applied to education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University.

Excerpts from Publications

Coe, G. A. (1916). The psychology of religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (pp. 74-75).

If the question be asked wherein, then, religious value is distinct from ethical value, the answer is that it is not distinct from ethical or any other value. When ethical value attempts its own ideal completion in union with all other values similarly ideal and complete, what we have is religion in the sense in which the term is here used. The sphere of religion, as of ethics, is individual-social life. In this life religion refers to the same persons, the same purposes, the same conditioning facts, as ethics. In most ethical thinking however, a difference is recognized. For ethics commonly limits its attention to certain values only, whereas religion is interested in all values, in the whole meaning of life. Even within the sphere of social values this distinction between a narrower and a wider horizon is commonly made; for ethics, as ordinarily understood, limits itself to the visible life of men, while religion goes on to raise the question of extending social relationships to the dead and to divine beings. But we must not imagine that naming a horse is the same as putting a bit into his mouth. If, becoming restive under the phrase "mere ethics," one insists upon making ethical ideals a norm for the whole of experience, what happens is the very effort at completion, unification, and conservation of values to which the name religion is here given.

Coe, G. A. (1929). What is Christian education? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons. (pp. 178-192).

What is permanent and unchanging in creative Christian education?
It should be clear already that creative Christian education is not a flighty, arbitrary, or history spurning thing, that it does not dispense with self-discipline, nor dissolve the bonds that hold men together. On the face of the matter, the personality-principle calls for self-organization, for the integration of selves in society, and for a kind of interrelation between persons that can hold through time. It May be well, however, at this stage of our discussion, to formulate this abiding aspect of free creativity so that teachers May test and guide their work in a definite manner.
Two maxims will sum up the matter: approach all persons in the spirit of respect or ethical love, and approach all facts in the spirit of science. These are two aspects of one principle; however, rather than two principles. For, since the scientific method, as we have seen, is a necessary expression of personality, ethical love, which seeks the self-realization of persons, will directly evoke scientific attitudes and practices in both the lover and the loved.
For teachers of the Christian religion the universal guide and test is, Am I helping my pupils grow in the personal or ethical-love way of dealing both with themselves and with others whose lives they touch? Am I helping them extend this fellowship to others who need it? Am I helping them master the conditions of efficient good-will by using the methods of science with reference to all facts involved, whether facts of history, of external nature, or of the mind of man? Am I helping them to such a deep and satisfying experience of this ethical-love way that they are learning to worship?
This single, yet two-fold, principle will find no occasion to revise itself, no matter what changes in other matters May be required. The particular acts in which we endeavor to love one another will vary with varying conditions and with growing insight; likewise the particular technics by which we learn and teach will grow and proliferate in the future as they have done in the past. We do not know what forms the self-realization of persons might take under circumstances that seem not to be entirely beyond the range of possibility. If we could feed ourselves with synthetic foods, or tap some exhaustless cosmic reservoir of electric power, or "crack the atom," what would daily occupations then be like, and how would the forms of human association be affected? Nobody can tell. But the loving approach to persons, and the scientific approach to facts, would have precisely the sanction that they now have.
This permanent element in Christian education is not a dogma; rather, it supersedes dogmatic authority. It is not a metaphysical proposition, though it May well furnish an impulse and a starting-point for metaphysical inquiry. It does not prescribe any particular act as a duty, though duties enough must sprout from it. It is an attitude or a policy, and in this sense a method, or determinant and test of procedure. Further, as we have just seen, it is what logicians have called a heuristic principle, that is, a way of acting that leads to discoveries. It has indefinite fecundity and creativeness because it makes us active to the limit of our personal capacity without imposing upon us any act whatever.
When we realize that this verily is the permanent source of spiritual fecundity, we shall see how needless are some of our anxieties. Before now some reader has queried-appropriately so-whether faith in the eternal God, and loyalty to Jesus, are not the permanent landmarks of truly Christian education. The answer is two-fold: First, this faith and this loyalty cannot be handed down as one hands down to one's children the title to a farm; they must be generated afresh in every individual. Therefore the generative source is the matter of prime concern. Second, though faith in God and loyalty to Jesus have been, in a formal or verbal sense, permanent in historical Christianity, they have not been unchanging, and they cannot be raised above change. The quod semper, ubique, ab omnibus does not exist.
The actual content of the idea of God, that to which emotion and conduct are attached, moves on with history. The other day some one raised the question, "Is Yahweh the God of us Christians?" If you answer "Yes," meaning that the Christian conception of God grew out of the Jewish idea of the divine (rather, ideas), you must also answer "No," because there was an outgrowing as well as a growing out. Similarly, if you ask whether Jesus did not give us a final notion of the divine, a notion never to grow further, the answer is that he has stimulated men to take an attitude toward life that makes changes in our notion of God inevitable. Surely growing conceptions of duty and stationary conceptions of the divine cannot fuse or live together. But our ethical problems do and must undergo transformation; the good man of yesterday, the good Christian of yesterday, does not suffice in the new human relationships of today.It would be easy to show that this flow is present not merely in the lay mind but also in technical theology. No theologian of today would aver that the term God means to him precisely the same that the term Father meant to Jesus.
Theology, like Christian experience, is a stream with many curves, slower and swifter currents, cross-currents, eddies, tributaries, and evaporation. In fact, the history of Christianity is continuous with the general history of religion, and religion in its world-totality is a various and changing phase of the various and changing conditions of humanity. This proposition is not at all speculative; it is a solid and accepted result of painstaking research.
What, then, of loyalty to Jesus as a permanent and unchanging bond of all Christian education? I have already affirmed that recognition of the worth of persons is the permanent and unchanging thing. Loyalty toward this is loyalty toward that to which Jesus was loyal. This association with him, especially in view of the stimulus and support that it yields to our weakness, might without impropriety be designated as loyalty to him. But clear discrimination is needed here. Is not the personality-principle final for us anyhow, whether Jesus grasped it or not? We hold to it because of its inherent validity, just as he did; it is not secondary to anything or anybody.
Moreover, as in the use of the term God, so in our thought of the historic person Jesus, the meaning changes while the word abides. Our views of Jesus involve judgments of a historical sort; questions of plain fact, always are included. What did Jesus actually do, and what were his reasons for doing it? What were his exact words, and exactly what meanings did they have for him? Just what experiences came to him day by day, and how did he meet them? The answers to these questions have changed from age to age, and they are changing now. Many of the facts are so obscure that the most knowing persons in the field of New Testament study do not agree concerning them. At the best, only a few items out of Jesus' total experience are as much as mentioned in the records. Consequently, loyalty to Jesus, if it is not to be a vague and sentimental admiration for unfocalized goodness, must select particular points in his goodness, and attach itself to them. Attach itself to them because of what they are. The deepest devotion to him would be reached if we should discover in him some active, creative, and inexhaustible spring of the spirit that is also in us.
This deep well we do find in him and in us. It is ethical love or regard for personality. The cups of this living water that we pass to one another are the abiding sacrament of our fellowship. Nothing else can make us one; nothing else can make of Christianity anything more than a thing of time and change. Apparently Jesus' own attitude was that of friend rather than that of master. "I call you not servants." The loyalty of the Christian, accordingly, is loyalty not to one person, even Jesus, but to persons.


  • Coe, G. A. (1916). The psychology of religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (pp. 74-75).
  • Coe, G. A. (1917). A Social Theory of Religious Education. New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons.
  • Coe, G. A. (1929). What is Christian education? New York: Chas. Scribner's Sons. (pp. 178-192).

Author Information

Helen Allan Archibald

Helen Allen Archibald is Associate Professor Emerita at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, in New Brighton, MN. She completed her dissertation on George Albert Coe at the University of Illinois in 1975. She currently resides in Laguna Niguel, CA.