A Timeline of the GTU's First 50 Years

This timeline, created in celebration of the GTU's 50th anniversary in 2012, highlights the milestones in the GTU story and notable figures who played a unique role in shaping the path of the GTU during its first 50 years.

1958 Conversations of cooperation

Conversations regarding a cooperative graduate degree program began in 1958 among an ad hoc committee consisting of members from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Pacific School of Religion, and Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Dean Sherman E. Johnson of CDSP proposed, on the group's behalf, a cooperative graduate program in religion to the University of California, but the initial results were inconclusive.

San Francisco Theological Seminary joined the discussion in 1959 when PSR invited the other schools to participate in a special PSR department in graduate studies.


1961 Turbulence

Instead of accepting PSR's invitation, the interseminary committee voted in March 1961 to form cooperative graduate program which would offer a Th.D. in church history. Each (accredited) seminary would set standards for the degree and confer it.

Immediate problems plagued the group. The church history faculty wanted the support of other disciplines, notably Biblical Studies and theology. The University of Chicago's acclaimed Federated Theological Faculty dissolved in 1960 after only a few years and advocates among the seminaries feared the same. In October 1961, all seminaries except PSR agreed to form a distinct corporation to grant the doctoral degree. Pushback from SFTS would clarify concerns over policy, administration, and academic standards.


1962 Founding of the Graduate Theological Union

On September 24, 1962, Articles of Incorporation were signed by representatives of Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West), Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary in order to offer a cooperative graduate program leading to a Th.D.


1962 Sherman E. Johnson, Dean 1962-63

Sherman E. Johnson was selected as the first dean while serving as the dean at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (1951-1972). He played a key role in the initial interseminary discussions leading to the formation of the GTU. Johnson is credited with suggesting the name, Graduate Theological Union.


1962 Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, an ecumenical council addressing the Catholic Church's relationship to the modern world, opened on October 11, 1962 and closed on December 8, 1965.

Pope John XXIII who gave notice of convening the council within months of his election noted that it was time to open up the windows of the church and let in some fresh air. The first half of the 20th century had presented the church with a number of challenges and changes, political, social, economic, and technological. Theological and biblical studies were departing from the traditions of the day. Prominent Catholic theologians were integrating modern human experience with church principles. Scholars looked to an accurate understanding of scripture and the Church Fathers as a source of renewal.

In a unique turn of events, Pope John invited Christians from Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions to attend as observers to the Council. As the council progressed, the number of observers grew from a few dozen to almost 100.

There were four periods, one each year, usually running from September to early December. During the third period, a number of proposals were considered. Unitatis Redintegratio, the decree on ecumenism, promulgated November 21, 1964, laid out the ways and means for all Catholics to respond to a "desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ."


1963 John Dillenberger, Dean 1963-71, President 1967-71

John Dillenberger served as both dean (from 1963) and the union's first president (from 1967) until 1971. As an academic, he specialized in the relationship religion and science; his Protestant Thought and Natural Science was a standard introduction on the topic for three decades. Upon his retirement, trustee Jane Newhall endowed a chair in historical studies in his name.

Dillenberger saw the expansion of the union from four schools to nine; the founding of various centers focusing on Jewish studies, women and theology, religion and culture, and the Black Church; the doctoral areas expanded; and the establishment of a common library. Claude Welch noted, "The GTU community knows that it owes the creation of this unique enterprise more to John than to any other person."


1964 GTU admits three schools

Pacific School of Religion, which had already been in the collaborative discussions, joins the GTU along with Starr King School for the Ministry (then Thomas Starr King School for Religious Leadership) and the consortium's first Catholic institution, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (then College of St. Albert the Great).


1966 Jesuits join the GTU

Originally founded as Alma College in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1934, the school opened as a theologate for Jesuits of the Oregon and California Provinces, becoming a pontifical faculty in 1945. In 1958, the theologate affiliated with Santa Clara University as its School of Theology. In the midst of Vatican II, 1964 to be exact, the faculty asked to join the GTU. The school was admitted to the union in 1966 but the province was torn over its location. In 1969, it was decided that the school would relocate to Berkeley. Opening for the 1969-70 school year, the school officially became the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, simultaneously severing its affiliation with SCU. The school reconnected in 2009 to become the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. Read more about JST-SCU's history.


1968 Franciscans relocate and become union's final school

In 1854 Mission Santa Barbara was chartered as an apostolic college and continued in that capacity until 1885. From 1869 to 1877, it also functioned as a college for lay men. In 1896, it began a four-year high school seminary program. The high school and college departments became a separate institutions in 1901 and 1929, respectively. Mission Santa Barbara remained the center for theological studies and continued to operate as a seminary until 1968 when the theological school moved to Berkeley, California as the Franciscan School of Theology. (FST remained a member of the GTU until the school relocated to Southern California in 2014)


1968 Founding of the Center for Jewish Studies

The Center for Judaic Studies, as it was known at the time, was GTU's first specialized institute. Until the creation of CJS, the union only coordinated the resources of already established educational institutions, and two new faculty members, Bernard Loomer and Norman Gottwald, had been brought to Berkeley jointly by the GTU and the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School.

CJS was the union's own creation. Professor and Rabbi David Winston was appointed to head the center, thus becoming the third faculty appointment to be supported by GTU funding.

Not a rabbinical school, CJS researches Judaism as a religion and locus of culture from an academic perspective.


1968 School of Applied Theology affiliates

Originally known as The Institute of Lay Theology (ILT) and first located at the University of San Francisco, SAT pioneered the education of full-time lay ministers for parish work. The GTU invited ILT to become an affiliate, which it did in 1968 as the School of Applied Theology, now located in Oakland.


1969 Center for Urban-Black Studies

Following the founding of CJS in 1968, GTU established the Center for Urban-Black Studies which integrated theological study with the Urban-Black and Urban-Minority communities. In addition to encouraging understanding of the contribution of the Black church through courses, the center also hosted annual Martin Luther King, Jr. lectures.

The presence of the Center continues through the The Black Church/Africana Religious Studies program. The Black Church is but one expression of the broader phenomenon of African American Religion. Spatially, the phenomenon of African American Religion encompasses West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and North America. Temporally, the phenomenon emerges in the sixteenth century and continues into the present. The nature of African Americans’ religious experience can be better understood when the Black Church is situated within this broader spatial/temporal framework.


1969 Center for Hermeneutical Studies in Hellenistic and Modern Culture

Alongside of the Center for Urban-Black Studies, GTU established the Center for Hermeneutical Studies in Hellenistic and Modern Culture. The Center provided a forum for scholars interested in the problems of interpretation, particularly with reference to Hellenistic culture and its significance for contemporary culture. Eventually this center adopted the moniker, the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture. The center operated until 2010.


1970 Women and Religion

GTU founded the Office of Women's Affairs (later the Center for Women and Religion) to provide resources to women and men in theological education and in the church, local and global. Resources included publications, media, consultations, and conferences that enhance the role of women and "the feminine" in religion. Journal. The Center closed 1988.

The current program for Women's Studies in Religion affirms the Graduate Theological Union's long-standing commitment to women's studies in theology and religion. It builds upon the network of academic and community centers, as well as initiatives established by GTU member schools and affiliates, for the study and support of women in religion. Expanding its network, the program for Women's Studies in Religion is a member of the Gender Consortium at UC Berkeley and is recognized by its Department of Gender and Women's Studies' Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality program.


1971 GTU receives accreditation

GTU received full accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


1971 Signing of the Common Library Agreement

The Common Library Agreement merely marked the next phase of shared library services. A Library Committee had been formed in 1963 and by 1964 a shared catalog was being developed by the new Bibliographical Center. John Alhadef would serve as the first Library Director, but it was N. Stilson Judah, appointed director in 1965, who would truly guide the early years. Seven member schools and the GTU were signers of the Common Library Agreement in 1971. PSR would join the common library agreement in 1980 and SKSM in 1982.


1971 Claude Welch, Dean 1971-87, President 1971-82

Claude Welch began his term as dean in August of 1971 following a stint by J. Hilary Martin of CDSP as Acting Dean (1970-71). In December of that year, he began serving as president until June 1, 1982. Welch continued as dean until 1987.

Welch is best known for his contributions to the expansion of the GTU’s programs and services, notably the academic ties between the GTU and the University of California, Berkeley, including the joint Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies and cross-registration for courses. He also oversaw the admission of affiliated centers, institutes, and programs such as the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute; Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences; Institute of Buddhist Studies; Pacific Asian-American Center for Theology and Strategies; and the Center for Ethics and Social Policy.

In 1976, he established the GTU Distinguished Faculty Lecture which continues to be an annual event.  He also commenced the planning of the GTU Common Library building and the completion of Phase I in 1981.


1972 Center for Pacific and Asian Americans

GTU founds the Pacific and Asian American Center for Theology and Strategies. The center was established as a national ecumenical organization to serve as a resource, network, and communications center for persons involved in ministries among Pacific and Asian Americans. The center focuses on lay ministry; women; education; human rights; refugees, immigrants and native peoples; and racial and ethnic concerns.


1973 Increased partnership with UC Berkeley

GTU students could cross-register at UC Berkeley at no additional charge. Up to this point, university faculty regularly sat on students' doctoral committees and prospective Ph.D. students also had to be admitted into the university's graduate division.


1976 Annual Faculty Lecture

The Graduate Theological Union Annual Faculty Lecture was inaugurated in 1976 at the suggestion of the Community Affairs Committee. It was "established by the GTU to honor distinguished scholars on the faculty, and to allow the community an opportunity to hear the results of their scholarship." The lecturer is to embody the ecumenical spirit of the GTU in her or his writing and teaching. Nominations are sent to the Council of Deans who makes the final decision. The name was changed to the Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 1988.


1976 Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute

The Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute exists to Educate, Communicate, Promote and Sustain the Traditions, Values, Teachings and Culture of Orthodox Christianity. The Institute advances a strong, effective, highly visible witness of Orthodoxy in the western United States through the Master of Arts in Orthodox Christian studies; offering academic lectures and symposia; housing a Rare Book Room and museum; publishing; sponsoring the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley; offering educational programs to the faithful of the Bay Area, and other activities.


1979 Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama spoke at the GTU on October 1.


1981 Phase I of the Common Library completed

Following multiple setbacks including the death of architect Louis I. Kahn, preservation initiatives for the Wilson carriage house on the property, and a decision to build the library in multiple phases, the groundbreaking for a Common Library took place on June 24, 1979. The building was dedicated on February 23, 1981. Construction on Phase II would not begin until 1985.


1982 Michael Blecker, O.S.B., President 1982-87

Throughout his presidency, Michael Blecker, O.S.B. oversaw the completion of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, the installation of a Chair for Jewish Studies, the affiliation with the Institute for Buddhist Studies, and the establishment of the Inter-Racial and Cross-Cultural Education program.  He is also remembered as a keen fundraiser, developing some of the first systematic attempts to raise money for the school.  Blecker believed in the capabilities of the GTU, its potential, and the ability of the school to support itself.  In his book From Fallow Fields to Hallowed Halls, John Dillenberger describes Blecker as “formidable.”


1982 Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences

When Robert Russell wanted to found a locus for discussion on the interrelationship between religion and science, the climate of the GTU provided the ideal location. In 1982, CTNS was founded as an affiliate. Read more about CTNS' history.


1985 The Institute of Buddhist Studies

Established in 1949, the Institute of Buddhist Studies has been providing graduate-level Buddhist education, ministerial and chaplaincy training, and other educational programs in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than sixty years. The Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) has been affiliated with the GTU since 1985. Also associated with the Buddhist Churches of America, the seminary and graduate school practices interreligious collaboration through its Master of Arts degree and lectures and programs open to all. The Institute of Buddhist Studies offers a systematic and comprehensive educational program in the entirety of the Buddhist tradition while seeking to serve the educational needs of all Buddhists.


1987 Library completed and dedicated

Construction on Phase II and III is completed. The Library is named in honor of Flora Lamson Hewlett on May 5.


1987 Judith Berling, Dean 1987-96

Judith Berling was the GTU's first female administrator. She is highly recognized as a scholar and teacher, intentionally cultivating interdisciplinary and interreligious encounters in her classroom and encouraging those throughout the GTU - her legacy. Berling convened a working group of faculty to enrich the curriculum with Asian and Pacific Rim topics and perspectives - an emphasis that continues through the Asia Project. In 2003, she was award the first Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award for her interdisciplinary and interreligious approach. Three years earlier she delivered the Distinguished Faculty Lecture.

Reflecting on her time as Dean, Berling commented, "In 1987 the GTU was tiny and there were many who had been here since its founding. Consequently, there were many memories about what the GTU was intended to be, and often they were competing memories. There were no written policies when I came! There was only oral tradition and, in many cases, contended oral tradition. I could listen to all the stories and see how they somehow knit together."


1987 Center for the Arts, Religion and Education

Doug Adams, Professor of Christianity and the Arts at the Pacific School of Religion, founded CARE in 1987 as an affiliate of the GTU.


1987 Newhall Fellowships established

Trustee Jane Newhall endows competitive awards for doctoral students to engage in collaborative teaching  or research with faculty mentors. Her original gift of $1,000,000 is now the largest endowment at the GTU.


1988 Robert Barr, President 1988-92


1991 Surjit Singh Lecture

October 6 lecture by Surjit Singh on "The Telos of Religion and Culture: An Interpretation" marked the inauguration of the annual Surjit Singh Lecture in Comparative Religious Thought and Culture.


1992 Glenn R. Bucher, President 1992-99

Glenn R. Bucher understood the GTU as an institution with a valuable mission and a thirty-year history of strong contributions to theological education, ecumenicism, and interreligious dialogue.  However, he further understood that the GTU, entering into its fourth decade, needed not only to maintain its place in theological education, but to work toward “ever greater achievements.”  He used GTU’s 30th Anniversary events to focus issues for the coming decade stating, “The GTU is not positioned adequately as a national and international center for theological study, nor as a resource for churches, synagogues and other religious communities.” Bucher helped give GTU a better financial footing for the years ahead.


1992 New College Berkeley

New College Berkeley was founded in 1977 by a group of lay Christians, pastors, and scholars in order to provide Christians and those interested in Christianity with a place to study and talk about how contemporary Christians engage contemporary issues. The founders were committed to providing high-caliber interdisciplinary studies for the laity. In 1992, NCB became an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union and even today remains one of the few evangelical components of the consortium.


1993 Reading of the Sacred Texts

John Pairman Brown delivered the first Reading of the Sacred Texts Lecture on February 25 entitled, "What Makes a Text Sacred?"


1996 Margaret Miles, Dean 1996-2001

Margaret Miles helped bring the Feminist perspective to bear on academics at the GTU. She received her B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University, and her Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union ('77). Before returning "home," she taught at the Harvard University Divinity School for 18 years, where she chaired the theology department (6 years) and the Committee on Religion, Gender, and Culture since its inception. She has lectured widely in the United States and Europe on patristic theology, asceticism, religion and art, gender theory, and film and literary criticism. She served on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and the advisory board for Feminist Studies in Religion.


1999 Asia Project

The Asia Project has been evolving from more than a decades’ efforts for an effective engagement with Asian contexts and cultures in the theological education, research and leadership development of faith communities at the GTU.  In 1999, a faculty working group reviewed related educational initiatives within the GTU and eventually led to the “Asian Theologies and Perspectives in North American Theological Education” project, funded by a 3-year grant of $750,000 from Henry Luce Foundation and a subsequent grant of $500,000 in 2004.


2000 James Donahue, President 2000-2013

The first alumnus to serve as GTU president, Donahue was also professor of ethics. Before returning to the GTU, he served at Georgetown University for fifteen years as professor of theology and dean of students. In 1992, he was selected as the outstanding teacher of the year at Georgetown.

Dr. Donahue completed a $12 million fundraising campaign in 2010 that raised over $4 million for scholarships and established the Center for Islamic Studies.


2001 Arthur Holder, Dean 2001-2016

The Reverend Arthur G. Holder served as Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and John Dillenberger Professor of Christian Spirituality from 2001 to 2016. From 1995 until 2002, he was Dean of Academic Affairs at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, where he had previously served as Director of Field Education. He is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of California.

He is the author of numerous articles on biblical interpretation, pastoral ministry, and education in early and medieval Christianity. He is also the editor of The Blackwell Companion to  Christian Spirituality (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005) and Christian Spirituality: The Classics (Routledge, 2010).


2007 Center for Islamic Studies

With the academic and religious resources to offer a distinctively interreligious and interdisciplinary approach, the GTU founded the Center for Islamic Studies (CIS) in 2007. The center is building an academic platform to help scholars and students of many faiths learn about the richness of Islam and the diversity of Muslims, and emphasizes study and dialogue among contemporary Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.


2012 The GTU celebrates 50 years

Discover more GTU history by following us on Instagram.


Looking Ahead to the GTU's 60th Anniversary

As the GTU looks ahead to our 60th Anniversary in 2022, we are excited to unveil a new strategic vision as we continue to innovate theological education. Learn more.

Stay up-to-date on GTU news and plans to celebrate the 60th Anniversary by subscribing to our email newsletter.