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Union Theological Seminary (New York City)

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Title: Union Theological Seminary (New York City)  
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Collection: Columbia University, Educational Institutions Established in 1836, Harlem, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Morningside Heights, Manhattan, Presbyterian Universities and Colleges in the United States, School Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in Manhattan, Seminaries and Theological Colleges in New York, Union Theological Seminary (New York City), Universities and Colleges in New York, Universities and Colleges in New York City, Upper West Side
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Union Theological Seminary (New York City)

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Latin: Seminarium Theologici Unioniensis Novi Eboraci
Motto Unitas, Veritas, Caritas (Latin)
Motto in English
Unity, Truth, Love
Established 1836
Type Private
Endowment US$ 102,500,000
President Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
Academic staff
Students 300
Location New York City (Morningside Heights, Manhattan), New York, USA
Affiliations Columbia University
Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary (New York City) is located in New York City
Location W. 120th St. and Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Area 2.3 acres (0.93 ha)
Built 1908
Architect Allen & Collens
Architectural style Late Gothic Revival, Collegiate Gothic, Other
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 80002725[1]
Added to NRHP April 23, 1980
Brown Memorial Tower

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is an independent, ecumenical, Christian seminary. It is the oldest independent seminary in the United States. It was founded in 1836 by members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.,[2] but was open to students of all denominations. In 1893, Union rescinded the right of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to veto faculty appointments, thus becoming fully independent. In the 20th century, Union was a center of liberal Christianity and neo-orthodoxy, in addition to being the birthplace of the Black Liberation Theology, Womanist Theology, and other theological movements.

Union is affiliated with neighboring Columbia University and the seminary serves as Columbia's constituent faculty of theology, a status it has held since 1928. Union, although independent, is represented in Columbia's governance structure and appoints one faculty member and one student to be senators in the Columbia University Senate. In 1964, Union established an affiliation with neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary. Union houses the Columbia University Burke Library, the largest theological library in the Western Hemisphere.


  • Campus 1
    • Library 1.1
  • History 2
  • Degrees 3
  • Faculty 4
    • Notable current faculty 4.1
    • Former theologians and faculty 4.2
  • Notable alumni 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Side view at Claremont Avenue between 120th and 119th streets (1910).

Union's campus is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan, bordered by Claremont Avenue, Broadway, 120th Street, and 122nd Street. The brick and limestone English Gothic revival architecture, by Francis R. Allen (1844–1931) and Collins, completed in 1910, includes the tower (pictured), which adapts features of the crossing tower of Durham Cathedral. Adjacent to Teachers College, Barnard College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Manhattan School of Music, Union has cross-registration and library access agreements with all of these schools.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 23, 1980. Some sections of the campus are now on long-term lease to Columbia University.

Union's urban campus is regarded by some to be among the most beautiful in the United States. The inner quadrangle and other various halls and rooms are often used as a filming location by the motion picture industry.


The Burke Library, which is one of the largest theological library in the western hemisphere, contains holdings of over 700,000 items. The Library is recognized as one of the premier theological libraries in the world and includes extensive holdings of unique and special materials, including Greek census records from 20 CE, a rare 12th-century manuscript of the Life of St. Boniface, a 1520 imprint of Martin Luther’s first published writing, and one of the first African-American hymnals, published in Philadelphia in 1818.

The Burke Library offers a number of world-renowned archival collections, including the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship and the Missionary Research Library Archives.

In 2004 Union's Burke Library became fully integrated into the Columbia University Library system, which holds over 10 million volumes. The library is named in honor of Walter Burke, a generous benefactor to the library who served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Seminary from 1976 to 1982.


Founded in 1836, Union Theological Seminary (UTS) is one of the most prestigious divinity schools in the world. During the late-19th Century, it became one of the leading centers of liberal Christianity in the United States. In 1891 Charles A. Briggs, who was being installed as the chair of Biblical Studies, delivered an inaugural address in which he questioned the verbal inspiration of Scripture.[3] When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. vetoed Briggs' appointment and eventually deposed Briggs for heresy two years later, Union removed itself from denominational oversight.[4] In 1939 the Auburn Theological Seminary moved to its campus.[5]

Among its graduates were the historian of Christianity Arthur McGiffert; biblical scholar James Moffatt; Harry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church who served as professor during his tenure there; and the Socialist leader Norman Thomas.

Union Theological Seminary entrance on Broadway.

In 1895 members of the Union Theological Seminary Alumni Club founded Union Settlement Association, one of the oldest settlement houses in New York City. After visiting Toynbee Hall in London and inspired by the example of Hull House in Chicago, the alumni decided to create a settlement house in the area of Manhattan enclosed on the north and south by East 96th and 110th Streets and on the east and west by the East River and Central Park.

Known as East Harlem, it was a neighborhood filled with new tenements but devoid of any civic services. The ethos of the settlement house movement called for its workers to “settle” in such neighborhoods in order to learn first-hand the problems of the residents. “It seemed to us that, as early settlers, we had a chance to grow up with the community and affect its development,” wrote William Adams Brown, Theology Professor, Union Theological Society (1892–1930) and President, Union Settlement Association (1915–1919).[6]

Union Settlement still exists, providing community-based services and programs to support the immigrant and low-income residents of East Harlem. One of East Harlem’s largest social service agencies, Union Settlement reaches more than 13,000 people annually at 17 locations throughout East Harlem through a range of programs, including early childhood education, youth development, senior services, job training, the arts, adult education, nutrition, counseling, a farmers' market, community development, and neighborhood cultural events.

Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich made UTS the center of both liberal and neo-orthodox Protestantism in the post-War period. Prominent public intellectual Cornel West commenced a promising academic career at UTS in 1977. As liberalism lost ground to conservatism after the 1960s (while neo-orthodoxy dissipated) and thus declined in prestige, UTS ran into financial difficulties and shrank significantly because of a reduced student base.

Eventually, the school agreed to lease some of its buildings to Columbia University and to transfer ownership of and responsibility for the Burke Library to Columbia. These agreements helped stabilize the school's finances, which had been hobbled by increasing library costs and the need for substantial campus repairs.

On July 1, 2008, feminist theologian Serene Jones became Union's first female president in its 172-year history, succeeding Joseph C. Hough, Jr.[7]

According to Columbia Wiki, "Union has a distinguished history among graduate theological institutions. Its faculty has always ranked among the best in the world and has included such luminaries as Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, James Cone, Cornel West, and others. Its students come from around the country and the world. The seminary is known for its progressive understanding of religion in general, and Progressive Christianity in particular, and has long been at the forefront of the great social movements in this nation's history."[8]

On June 10, 2014, Jones announced that the Seminary would be joining the movement to divest from the fossil fuels industry in protest at the damage the industry is causing to the environment.[9] The Seminary's $108 million endowment will no longer include any fossil fuel investments.


The school confers the following degrees: Master of Arts, Master of Divinity, joint Master of Divinity/Master of Science in Social Work, Master of Sacred Theology, and Doctor of Philosophy. Union also offers joint degree programs with Columbia University.


In 1930 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Postgraduate Teaching Fellow at the seminary. He later returned in 1939 to be a member of the faculty and to escape Nazi harassment in Germany. He soon regretted his decision and decided that he had to return to Germany to resist the Nazis. He took the last ship from New York to Germany in late August 1939. Due to his secret involvement with the 20 July plot on Hitler's life, he was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 8 April 1945, only 15 days before the United States Army liberated the camp.

Both Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich taught at the seminary during the post-World War II period.

Dr. Serene Jones, the seminary's first female president, was inaugurated in November 2008. Dr. Joseph Hough, UTS' immediate past president, is a Christian Democratic Socialist. Henry Sloane Coffin was a past president. Civil Rights Activist Cornel West joined the faculty in July 2012. Dr. James Hal Cone is one of the founders of liberation theology and is active in the development of African-American theology.

Union has also been home to Womanist theologians such as Delores S. Williams. Dr. Gary Dorrien is a social ethicist. Dr. James A. Forbes, the former senior pastor of the adjacent Riverside Church, is an adjunct professor at the seminary and had been a full-time, chaired professor before accepting the Riverside post.

Notable current faculty

Several of Union's members also teach in the Religious Studies department at Columbia University, the Teachers College, Columbia University, New York Theological Seminary, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Former theologians and faculty

Notable alumni

See also



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ Union Theological Seminary – Timeline, 1836 to 1869
  3. ^ D.G. Hart & John Muether Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2007) pg. 183
  4. ^ Hart & Muether, pg. 183
  5. ^ "About Us". Auburn Theological Seminary web site. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  6. ^ A Teacher and His Times, William Adams Brown, Scribner, 1940.
  7. ^ Union Theological Seminary – Serene Jones, President of the Faculty
  8. ^ Columbia Wiki
  9. ^ Serene Jones Divestment Announcement
  10. ^ Commonweal article
  11. ^ Metaxas, Eric| Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy 2010, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 101
  12. ^ David P. Gushee's web site
  13. ^ Martin, Douglas. "George W. Webber, Social Activist Minister, Dies at 90", The New York Times, July 12, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2010.


  • Handy, Robert T. A History of Union Theological Seminary in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

External links

  • Union Theological Seminary webpage
  • Union Podcast
  • The WPA Guide to New York City 1939, reprint 1982.
  • Union Theological Seminary in Columbia University's Wiki
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