History & Philosophy

History, Philosophy, Mission, and Values


Eastern Mennonite University had its beginnings in the Shenandoah Valley in 1917 when Eastern Mennonite School, as it was then known, began as a Bible academy. The school grew, gaining accreditation by the Virginia Board of Education as a junior college in 1930. Seventeen years later in 1947 a four-year degree program was approved by the state. Regional accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools[1] was achieved in 1959. By 1965 a seminary had evolved to prepare persons for Christian ministry. The seminary received accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in 1986. The first graduate program (other than seminary)--counseling--began in 1993. Two others followed in the next two years--conflict transformation and education. An adult degree completion program was established in 1994. The school’s name was changed from “college and seminary” to “university” in August 1994. An MBA program was approved to begin fall of 1999. Today the university is located not only in Harrisonburg but also maintains instructional sites in Lancaster, Pa. (EMU at Lancaster) and Washington, DC (Washington Community Scholars' Center).

With simultaneous commitments to academic excellence, professional expertise and Christian discipleship, EMU has a distinctive educational role to play. To inspire excellence demands competence and sacrificial devotion on the part of faculty, staff and administrators. This is the challenge and the goal.


The educational task of Eastern Mennonite University is rooted in the Christian faith and its scriptures as they have been interpreted and lived out in a unique - Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. This tradition embraces God’s gift of reconciliation through the cross and the power of the resurrection to create new life in conformity to the teaching and spirit of Jesus.

Eastern Mennonite University, in continuity with the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, is guided by several particular theological principles. We believe that Jesus Christ is the word of God Incarnate. We believe the Bible is the inspired book for the church and the authoritative guide for faith and life. The church is a community of work and worship where Christ is made known and where truth and meaning of life are discovered. Discipleship, which includes personal devotion to Christ, simplicity of life, peacemaking (which expresses itself in reconciliation, active pursuit of justice and non-participation in the military), evangelism and Christian service, is the mark of an authentic Christian life. Agape love, the style of life modeled in Jesus, should shape our common life. EMU affirms the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective together with other statements regarding faith and practice endorsed by the Mennonite Church. EMU recognizes its accountability to the Mennonite Church.

Students are encouraged to embrace this faith heritage while their own convictions and experiences and those of other religious heritages are respected. EMU seeks to deepen students’ faith and life in Christ, while also encouraging them to critique their own faith tradition in wholesome ways.

Recognizing God as the creator of all, EMU exposes students to many ways of knowing. By studying a broad-based liberal arts curriculum that features knowledge in a particular field and significant experience in a cross-cultural setting, undergraduate students deepen their understanding of the human condition and commitment to Christian service. Specialized graduate programs that express EMU’s particular strengths and commitments combine the rigor of academic specialization with practical preparation for service in the larger church and world. Learning has great consequence when it occurs in the intimacy of a campus village conscious of its own faith heritage, but open to and connecting with the vitality of a variety of world cultures.

Teaching and learning require mutuality in which teachers and students share opportunities and responsibilities. The faculty bring to their task specialized knowledge as well as an ability to make broad connections across the disciplines. They take responsibility for the direction of the learning process. The student is an active participant in learning, setting goals, determining procedures and evaluating results.

Faculty are expected to practice what they teach, demonstrating the creative possibilities of devout faith combined with serious reflection. The spiritual, moral and intellectual persuasiveness of faculty comes from significant engagement in congregational life, Christian service, and a demonstrated love for learning.

Creative teaching and learning affect the mind and character of the student. At its best education engenders in students a sense of idealism and responsibility, as well as a reverent humility before the awesome complexities and ambiguities of life.

Approved by EMU Board of Trustees, November 1994

Approved by Mennonite Board of Education, January 1995

[1]Eastern Mennonite University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate, baccalaureate, and masters degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Eastern Mennonite University. The university is certified to operate by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.