GTU at 50

From the President

June 2012

Dear Friends,

In September of 1962, visionaries from differing Christian traditions came together to form the Graduate Theological Union in order that they might accomplish more together than separately.

When I did my doctoral work in ethics at the GTU in the early ’80s, and in my teaching years after that, we leaned on the perspectives of thinkers who had gone before.  Certainly ethicists have always asked the normative questions about what is right and good. That hasn’t changed. But our scholarly analysis in the Christian tradition then was primarily drawn from the canonical works of Tillich, the Niebuhrs, Durkheim, Rahner, Weber, Barth, and others. They provided a kind of grand unified theory, attempting to connect ideas into integrated systems. We focused on identifying laws, norms, and principles that guide behavior. 

Today, scholarly discussion is being shaped by the here and now the times we live in.  We find ourselves in a more particularized, diverse, post-modern intellectual world, where we can’t assume that one size idea fits all. To engage the complex issues that emerge from that world, contemporary scholars now draw from a broader spectrum of religious traditions and cultures. 

This has changed the debate and the participants, making theological scholarship and discussion vastly more interreligious and intercultural. It also distinguishes practice from theory to a greater degree. While the GTU has historically been both theory and praxis-based, we are now more conscious of justice and public policy issues and how our methodology has concrete relevance today.

The GTU’s programs are distinctive because of our commitment to both scholarship and its practical application in a complex, conflict-ridden world. In my 12 years as president, I am still amazed and always proud to hear of student dissertations, such as those on topics ranging from cultivating compassion, to a theological response to U.S. involvement to state-sponsored torture, to a restorative approach to women in prison. I also am both proud and humbled by the excellent work of our distinguished alumni.

In addition to our academic programs, the GTU is a vital contributor to the community, hosting fascinating colloquia on special topics, interfaith holiday celebrations, and public lectures by renowned scholars on important issues of the day.

We remain a vital and vibrant global force in interfaith education in a time of extraordinary change and continued economic challenge. We look forward to the next 50 years.


James Donahue, Ph.D.

James Donahue served as president of the GTU from 2000-2013