As steals the morn upon the night
And melts the shades away:
So Truth does Fancy's charm dissolve
And rising Reason puts to flight
The fumes that did the mind involve
Restoring intellectual day.
Charles Jennens, 1700 – 1773
Ralston College arose from a simple but tectonic insight: that we no longer have the educational institutions on which a free and flourishing human culture depends.
It was around 2006 that it became clear to us—that is, to Stephen Blackwood and James Atkins Pritchard, the founding principals of Ralston College—that reform of higher education from within was a losing battle: that only new institutions could be sufficiently free from the ideological momentum, rent seeking, and corruption of the status quo.
The work involved was complex. Many may wish to, but you can’t just start a college. It needs a legal entity and home. In the American context, it needs the determination by the IRS of a tax-exempt status. It needs a curricular vision that is the fundamental mission of the college, and it needs people who will support and shepherd the institution into being. It needs to be able to attract superb teachers, and highly talented students, and to be credible and legible within its cultural milieu, however far it departs from the expected norm.
The fundraising began. Time and money were spent building the endeavour, and bringing people into it, enlarging it with their own vision. Our early supporters included philosopher Hilary Putnam, literary critic Harold Bloom, and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, a suvivor of the Holocaust who declared “I love new beginnings!” Gifts of fifty or a hundred or a few thousand dollars here and there began to arrive. People dug deep because they too believed that new beginnings are possible, that all we see is not all there is, that more adequate forms of educational community are necessary and possible. And, more importantly, they believed in giving those opportunities to others.
We received too the astounding generosity of many more distinguished scholars, of all manner of views and fields, from the very greatest universities in the world, substantiating the ideals for which they stood, in Ralston College. Then we had to build credibility in the corridors of power and capital, too. It’s been a long road to build that confidence, and we are deeply grateful for the trust a number of visionary philanthropists, foundations, and countless committed small donors have given to Ralston College, and we intend to honor that with every ounce of our being.
Then followed the birth of Ralston College in the form in which people now know it, as a platform, a community, a fellowship for all those who want to engage in the treasures of human enquiry, to seek the truth with courage. That community began through the podcast and the lectures and the events that have, in many ways, borne out our vision in unexpected ways. Those podcasts have already been seen by more people than we initially imagined would attend Ralston College in its whole history.
Over the past three years we have begun to build out our team—of scholars, administrators, philathropists and fundraisers, artists, architects, and other cultural figures, legal specialists, technologists, financiers, and great-hearted volunteers. We have received not only the support from but had the great gift of welcoming into our community people fleeing hostile regimes, or living with terminal illness, high school students trying to make their way, and disenfranchised scholars and people of all ages and races the world over, seeking to make sense of and grapple with the depth and complexity and beauty of human life.
From the inside, the journey has sometimes seemed long. But one thing the length of that journey has not been is atypical for the founding of institutions of higher education. Building takes time.
Late in 2020, we turned an important corner: we were honored and thrilled to be awarded degree-granting powers by the State of Georgia and authorised for operation. This made Ralston a real College at last. With the imminent launch of our first degree programme, and the rapid expansion of offerings for all ages and backgrounds, both in person and remotely online, we can now welcome anyone and everyone to join us—and to support us if they feel so moved, as we together seek to renew the conditions of a free and flourishing human culture. This college was born of love and shared vision by a diffuse and diverse yet united set of people. The beginning was simple, certainly humble, but the scale of the endeavour, the spiritual ambition, is great.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J. R. R. Tolkien
Podcasts, Articles & Events
Challenge yourself to explore big questions, free from the lengthier demands of a degree, through our online short courses, on a range of humanities subjects.
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Education and conversation free from censorship, cynicism, and corruption matter. Ralston College is a place for them to happen, for human flourishing and building anew.