Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History



Professor J. Lewis Diman, Commencement speaker

Professor J. Lewis Diman, D.D., Professor of History and Political Economy at Brown University, gave the Commencement address.

Son of Rhode Island Governor Byron Diman, J. Lewis was born in Bristol, RI in 1831. After graduating from Brown University in 1851, he spent two years in Europe, studying at the Universities of Halle, Heidelberg, and Berlin.  Following his graduation from Andover Theological Seminary in 1856, Diman spent four years as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, then four years at the Harvard Church in Brookline. He was appointed Professor of History and Political Economy at Brown University in 1864, remaining seventeen years.  He died in Providence in 1881.

In 1869, Diman gave the Phi Beta Kappa address at Amherst College's commencement. In it he defined the conservatively-held belief in the chasm between the positions of science and religion. He warned the students that, “The study of the physical sciences excludes the mind from the highest and most pressing questions that concern man as an immortal being…..The spirit is hopelessly dwarfed on which these shackles have once been fastened.” In contrast, studies such as religion, history, and poetry “keep the soul in constant, inspiring contact with the deepest springs of action.” Diman presented

a modern restatement of the Christian’s abhorrence of earthly things. He cites Darwin, an agnostic; Huxley, an agnostic who had been a Christian, and Herbert Spencer, “who does not even rise to the level of worshipping an unknown God” as examples of the dangers which can befall those who devote themselves exclusively to science. These three men were favorites of orthodox ministers who warned their congregations of the perils of modern science.

[John Kroll, "Evolution at Amherst College", written for American Studies seminar at Amherst, 1965, p. 4]

As well as sermons and religious tracts, Diman published a number of lectures, including: The Nation and the Constitution, 1866; The Method of Academic Culture, 1869; The Alienation of the Educated Class from Politics, 1876; as well as articles for the Providence Journal and the Nation. Many of his unpublished lectures, delivered to literary societies, historical societies, and colleges, were listed by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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