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Marsden has researched extensively the role of Christianity in American higher education and in American Evangelicalism. He studied at Haverford College, Westminster Theological Seminary and Yale University. He received a Ph.D. in American history under Professor Sydney Ahlstrom. He has taught at Calvin College and Duke Divinity School, and he was the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.
He is known for his famous, masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards, the New England clergyman and theologian of Colonial America. This biography won major historical prizes, including the Bancroft Prize in 2004, the Merle Curti Award in 2004, the Philip Schaff Prize and the Eugene Genovese Prize. In 2005, he received the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in religion.
He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, heavily influencing evangelical scholarship. Some of his recent publications include Fundamentalism and American Culture, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Establishe Nonbelief and Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.