Grant money awarded for the “Protestant Establishment I” project, directed by William Hutchison of The Divinity School of Harvard University, provided funding to reserve space at the Craigville (Massachusetts) Conference Center for the purpose of discussing and critiquing fourteen papers on American Protestantism from 1900 to 1960. Conference participants focused their inquiry primarily on the seven major mainline or liberal Protestant bodies of the period: (American) Baptists, Congregationalists, Disciples, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and United Lutherans. Other larger and smaller bodies of the era, including though not limited to Southern Baptists, National Baptists, African Methodists, Unitarians, Mormons, and Missouri Synod Lutherans, also figured into several presentations specifically as these related to the “seven sisters of American Protestantism.”
Participants presenting exploratory papers included: Hutchison, Robert Schneider, Grant Wacker, William King, Dorothy Bass, Jon Roberts, Elizabeth Nordbeck, Patricia Hill, Dennis Voskuil, Steven Marini, C. Conrad Wright, David Wills, and Mark Silk. The papers related particularly to the definition, self-consciousness, agenda, and cultural influence of these mainstream Protestant denominations between 1900 to 1960, dealing with these topics: (1) the prima facie case for the existence of a Protestant Establishment; (2) social outreach; (3) liberal Protestantism and natural science; (4) higher education; (5) ministerial training; (6) the study of world religions; (7) Unitarianism; (8) the black churches; (9) spirituality; (10) religious education; (11) ecumenical organizations; (12) religious press and radio pulpit; (13) the rise of the new evangelicalism; and (14) the future of mainline Protestantism.
At the close of the conference, the Steering Committee decided to narrow the project focus to “perceptions” of the Protestant Establishment among insiders, outsiders, and others related to the “Establishment.” The committee negotiated with several of the conference presenters to reshape their papers to fit the new criteria, while also asking other scholars not previously a part of the project to address new though related topics.