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“Resurrecting the glorious tradition”: Spanish liberalism’s controversy regarding the university, academic freedom and secular knowledge in the late 19th-century

María Muñoz Sanz-Agero (University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain)
Carl Antonius Lemke Duque (University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 22 August 2022

Issue publication date: 22 November 2022




This study provides a new look at the late 19th-century university issue in Spain. Loss of self-government among universities and the state’s centralization brought a conflict between science and religion to the fore in the process of the secularization of knowledge.


We first delve into the anti-Darwinian framework associated with the scientific professionalization process, focusing on the case of the jurist Antonio Hernández Fajarnés (1851–1909). Secondly, we study the idea of the university that emerged from the Ateneo de Madrid, analyzing key speeches from the jurist Francisco Fernández de Henestrosa (1855–s.d.) given in 1887/88 and from the pharmacist José Rodríguez Carracido (1856–1928).


The study concludes that the Restoration Era in Spain was characterized by a generalized desire – shared by neo-Scholastics, conservatives and liberal rationalists – to improve the public university system. In this context, French influence was no doubt decisive; however, the Humboldtian university idea had already begun to have notable influence.


This article analyzes sources yet unknown to international research, such as the Ateneo de Madrid debates and Spanish university rectors’ inaugural speeches. It opens up a critical examination of the so-called displacement of educational principles in Spain toward a state-centered system of doctrinal moderantismo as opposed to the nation-centered system of the Cádiz liberalism. At the same time, it identifies key pockets of resistance relative to Spanish university transformation toward increased methodological secularization.



The authors would like to thank the external referees for their valuable feedback, which helped to improve this research paper.

Funding: This article was developed as a synergy of two research projects: First, the PhD project “The construction of the nation: the Ateneo de Madrid during the Restoration Era (1875-1898)”, funded by a Spanish PhD grant [FPU]; the results of this project will be defended as a doctoral thesis at the end of this year. Secondly, the postdoc project “The foundations and future of the university in the post-secular society”, funded by the Institute Culture and Society (ICS) of the University of Navarra (Pamplona); the History Department of this university also supported language correction.


Muñoz Sanz-Agero, M. and Lemke Duque, C.A. (2022), "“Resurrecting the glorious tradition”: Spanish liberalism’s controversy regarding the university, academic freedom and secular knowledge in the late 19th-century", History of Education Review, Vol. 51 No. 2, pp. 185-199.



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