Founded in 1826 by the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the school takes its name from the prominent preacher and southern independence activist Richard Furman. When Furman broke formal ties with the Baptist convention 166 years later, some alumni and professors feared that this move would mark the beginning of the school's secularization—sending it down the worldly path to prestige already trod by once-devout Duke, Vanderbilt, and Emory.
Indeed, over the past two decades, Furman has risen steadily in reputation; once an excellent regional university, Furman is now one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Happily, it still maintains many of the things that have made it venerable, such as a close faculty-student interaction and a fairly strong liberal arts curriculum. Students now hail from forty-six states and thirty-one foreign countries, but the college draws a little less than one-third of its students from the state of South Carolina and around 75 percent from the Southeast. Perhaps that is one reason Furman has retained a unique atmosphere and fairly traditional orientation. In fact, if the reports of students and professors here can be trusted, Furman is one of the friendliest schools included in this guide. But the question remains: does Furman's Baptist heritage define the school any longer? The answer, as one professor puts it, is "not much."