The beginnings of Hamilton College were embedded in a Protestant Christian religious vision. Presbyterian missionary Rev. Samuel Kirkland invested his life in bringing a Christian worldview and practice to Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Indians, in particular the Oneida tribe of that confederacy. Kirkland partnered with Chief John Skenandoa, an influential leader of the Oneidas and a convert to Christianity, and together they developed an educational institution, established for young men of both white European and Haudenosaunee heritage.

Samuel Kirkland, Chief Shenandoah
Chief Shenandoah and Samuel Kirkland founders of Hamilton-Oneida Academy, 1793

In 1793 the Hamilton-Oneida Academy was born, and nineteen years later, Hamilton College was created, as the Regents of NY State put it, “by engrafting” the College onto the Academy. As was the case for many educational institutions of higher learning at the time, the curriculum focused on preparing students for Protestant ministry. Every president of the College through the first decade of the 20th century was theologically trained and ordained for ministry in the Protestant tradition. Mandatory chapel persisted into the 1960s and was, of course, based on a Protestant model.

Such a deep legacy of a particular faith tradition is difficult to overcome. Our semester system still revolves around assuring that students will be home in time for the celebration of Christmas, while Jewish high holidays and the holy month of Ramadan have no impact on our academic calendar.

Our celebrated 3-story chapel, the clearest physical manifestation of our Protestant heritage, has become the logo for our college.

Beginning with accommodations for Catholic students, Hamilton College began broadening its sense of religious pluralism in the 1960s, and expanding its support for students of various religious backgrounds, including Judaism, Islam and Zen Buddhism all of which are supported by the chaplaincy, housed on the third floor of the chapel building. Today, the chaplaincy is committed to religious pluralism and promoting knowledge about and engagement with all traditions represented in our campus community.

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