Graduate Theological Union

History of the GTU

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, several Protestant denominations and Catholic orders successfully established theological seminaries in the San Francisco Bay Area.

By the 1930s, several Protestant seminaries had relocated to Berkeley, drawn by the proximity of the University of California and the availabilLibraryity of its vast educational resources. In the early years, the University and the seminaries would open classes to students of other schools, list courses in the several catalogs, and share library resources. With time, and the growth of all the schools, this level of cooperation fell, each denominational seminary becoming more isolated, understanding themselves to have adequate resources to train their own students for specific denominational ministry and careers in religious work.

With the post-World War II period, however, came a rise in ecumenical sensitivities and cooperation. The war had brought devastation, displacement of populations, and disruption of church organizations in Europe. The global church community responded with the formation of the World Council of Churches (begun prior to the war, but not completed until after) in the Protestant tradition, and the Vatican II Council in the Catholic tradition, 1962-65. The understanding of theological education, too, began to shift away from denominational isolation to a more ecumenical approach. Seminaries began to understand the advantages of working in cooperation to strengthen curricula and advanced degree programs. Consortia of seminaries began to form in major cities throughout the United States during the 1960s.

StudentsIn this atmosphere, around 1958, negotiations to form a cooperative degree program began among the Protestant seminaries in Berkeley, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The ad hoc committee consisted of representatives from the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now American Baptist Seminary of the West), Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Episcopal), Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), and Pacific School of Religion (multi-denominational). Agreement among four of the schools was achieved, and the Articles of Incorporation forming the Graduate Theological Union were signed in 1962. The Pacific School of Religion chose not to enter the GTU until 1964. In that same year, the Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian) also joined. There followed a period of excitement and expansion as the fledgling GTU sought to define its identity, its programs, curriculum, policies, student body, and every facet of an educational institution.

The first Catholic school was admitted in 1964, St. Albert's College (now Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology), relocating from Oakland, California. They were followed in 1966 by Alma College which relocated from Los Gatos, California and was renamed the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley; and the Franciscan School of Theology moved up from Mission Santa Barbara in 1968.

The first affiliated centers of the GTU were established 1968-70: the Center for Judaic Studies (now the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies) and the Center for Urban Black Studies. In the decades to follow, the GTU affiliated institutes, centers and programs have grown to eight including the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, and the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

LibraryThe nine 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 a member school. A major project of the GTU during the 1970s was the planning and construction of a building to house the library and the GTU administrative offices. Constructed in two phases, the library was completed in 1987. The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library is now one of the major theological libraries in the country.

The GTU was initially created by the participating schools to offer a stronger graduate degree program than any one could offer alone. By 1971, the GTU was itself fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

MonkFirst offering only a doctorate in Theology, the GTU now offers the Ph.D., Th.D., and M.A. There are two joint Ph.D. programs with the University of California at Berkeley in Near Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies. The original four areas of study—Bible, history, theology, and ethics—were broadened to include the arts, the personality sciences, phenomenology of religions, spirituality, and inter-area studies. The combined faculties of the member schools, numbering 150, serve a total student body of 1,300.

The Graduate Theological Union remains committed to the spirit of ecumenism in which it was formed. Rich in resources and rich in spirit, the GTU seeks to educate women and men for vocations of ministry and scholarship, equip leaders for a future of diverse religions and cultures, teach patterns of faith which nurture justice and peace, and serve as an educational and theological resource for local communities, the nation, and the world.

Prepared by:
Lucinda Glenn
GTU Archivist