History of the Graduate Theological Union

The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) was founded in 1962. The establishment marked the nation’s first successful cooperative graduate study program leading to a Doctor of Theology degree.

Initially, five Protestant seminaries joined together to form the Union. The members included Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West), Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Episcopal), Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), all of which remain part of the GTU consortium. The fifth school, Golden Gate Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did not remain a part of GTU.

In 1964, Pacific School of Religion (inter-denominational) and Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian Universalist) joined GTU. That same year the first Catholic seminary joined the consortium: St. Albert's College (now Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology). In 1966, Alma College relocated from Los Gatos and became the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Two years later, the Franciscan School of Theology moved from Mission Santa Barbara to Berkeley to join the GTU and remained until 2014, when the Franciscan School relocated to Southern California.

Founded to support graduate theological education and promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the GTU’s location enabled access to the resources of the University of California, Berkeley, as well as with Stanford University.

“The GTU is at root a venture in faith:  faith in one another, faith in the future, and faith in God. The GTU is a unique community, formed from a series of covenants, agreements and contracts. Remarkable things have happened in the GTU, there is much unfinished business underway, and there are possibilities as yet unexplored.”

Claude Welch, Annual Report of the Dean & President to the Board of Trustees, September 15, 1973

Within its first decade, GTU expanded its offerings to include a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts degree. Member schools offer other degrees such as Master of Divinity, Master of Theological Studies, and Doctor of Ministry.

Original sketch of proposed library by Louis Kahn, 1972

The second phase of the GTU involved the development and inclusion of centers of learning and affiliates. These organizations expanded the religious traditions represented at the GTU to include Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Orthodox, Hindu, Jain, New Religions, and Swedenborgian, and gave expanded attention to specific areas of study including Art, Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Pacific Asian Studies, Applied Theology, Ethics and Social Policy, Hermeneutical Studies, and Theology and the Natural Sciences.

The GTU  member schools originally maintained their own libraries. In 1964, the Bibliographical Center was formed to consolidate collections and centralize book ordering and cataloging. In 1969, the GTU Common Library was established. The individual collections were merged and housed in the basement of Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

A major project of the GTU during the 1970s was the planning and construction of a new building to house the library and the GTU administrative offices. Louis Kahn was selected as the architect, and provided the vision for the project. After Kahn died unexpectedly in 1974, two local architects took over.  The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library was completed in 1987 and is one of the major theological libraries in the country.

Finished Library

In 2016 GTU consolidated the areas of study for its master and doctoral program from eight areas into four interdisciplinary departments:  Sacred Texts and Their Interpretation, Historical and Cultural Studies of Religion, Theology and Ethics, and Religion and Practice. This arrangement more easily allows interaction between different schools, subjects, and religions, while allowing students the freedom to choose from among more than thirty specific concentrations.

Many of the academic centers established at the GTU over the years play a key role in the school’s current multi-religious academic environment. The Center for Judaic Studies (now the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies) was founded in 1968 to enable an exchange between Christian and Jewish scholars, but has grown into a premier center for graduate studies in Judaism. The GTU has further expanded its study of the world religon’s through the creation of The Center for Islamic Studies (2007) and The Mira and Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies (2015). The GTU appointed a director in Mormon Studies in spring 2017, and hopes to establish a chair in this area.

“We see in this effort a desire to foster positive engagement across disciplines of philosophical and theological studies that embrace cultural and religious difference.”

Dr. Marianne Farina, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

In 2016, the GTU expanded its relationship with two Centers of Distinction—the Center for the Arts & Religion (CARe) and Francisco J. Ayala Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS)—and added a new affiliate, the Center for Swedenborgian Studies. With GTU, CARe created a wonderful gallery space in the former bookstore at 2465 LeConte Avenue. CTNS was renamed in 2017 to acknowledge a $2 million pledge from Dr. Ayala, a pioneer in population genetics and evolutionary theory.

These recent endeavors continue the longstanding commitment of the GTU to the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. While founded in the 1960s as a largely Christian institution, the GTU today embraces the major faiths. 

The GTU educates women and men for vocations of ministry and scholarship, equipping leaders for a future of diverse religions and cultures, teaches patterns of faith which nurture justice and peace, and serves as an educational and theological resource for local communities, the nation, and the world.

David Stiver
Special Collections Librarian
July 5, 2017