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The American Baptist Seminary of the West announced a name change to Berkeley School of Theology (BST) on July 24, 2020. Discussion of the name change has been ongoing since 2005 among the board of trustees, administrators, faculty and others. The 15-year journey included two comprehensive marketing and branding studies that recommended the name change for strategic, mission-driven, marketing, branding and identity purposes. “The name change encourages expanding our reach to a broader, more inclusive audience,” Board Chair, Dr. David Beaty says of the board’s unanimous decision. Of the 26 American Baptist affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries, ABSW is the last to relinquish the name “Baptist” in its primary public usage.
The name Berkeley School of Theology was selected for several reasons. There is a positive connection to one of its former names, Berkeley Baptist Divinity School. There is a historic connection to University of California Berkeley by way of former UCB president Benjamin Wheeler, an American Baptist. There are positive correlations between BST and the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) on Berkeley’s “Holy Hill” as one of the founding seminaries of the GTU. Research indicated that the name held prestigious appeal for international students and scholars. Finally, the name provides opportunities to be more immediately inclusive for current students from some 22 different denominations, and for purposes of marketing, branding and the recruitment of new faculty and students.
BST’s president, Dr. James Brenneman, notes, “The name change to Berkeley School of Theology will not affect the core mission of the school of theology to ‘create communities of Christian hope, justice and reconciliation.’ We will continue to share the historic Baptist core values in new and appealing ways honoring the legacy of what will be our 150th anniversary next year. We believe the new name marks a new era and a new beginning in training strong spiritual leaders for many years to come.”
The name change reflects recent changes in the curriculum and new learning opportunities for currently enrolled and new students. In 2019, the academic department launched an extensive revision of the curriculum. All courses now align across four themes: creative church and community, spirituality and resilience, justice and reconciliation, and border crossing and bridge building. Students can also choose to concentrate on one of these four tracks as part of building portfolios unique to their situations.
Berkeley School of Theology has undergone name changes several times in its history. BST was founded in 1871 as California College, becoming the Pacific Coast Baptist Theological Seminary in 1889. In 1904, the name was changed again to Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, which lasted 63 years. It later merged with California Baptist Theological Seminary in southern California to become, in 1968, the American Baptist Seminary of the West, holding that name for the last 52 years. Berkeley School of Theology represents another link in this remarkably named legacy of providing quality theological education to all its students past, present and future.
For further information about Berkeley School of Theology, visit here.