Open main menu

Union Theological Seminary (New York City)

  (Redirected from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York)

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is an independent, non-denominational, Christian seminary located in New York City. It is the oldest independent seminary in the United States and has long been known as a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship, with a number of prominent thinkers among its faculty or alumni. It was founded in 1836 by members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.,[3] but was open to students of all denominations. In 1893, Union rescinded the right of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to veto faculty appointments, thus becoming fully independent. In the 20th century, Union became a center of liberal Christianity. It served as the birthplace of the Black theology, womanist theology, and other theological movements. Union houses the Columbia University Burke Library, one of the largest theological libraries in the Western Hemisphere.[4]

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Union Theological Seminary New York seal.png
Seal of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Latin: Seminarium Theologicum Unioniense Novi Eboraci
MottoUnitas, Veritas, Caritas (Latin)
Motto in English
Unity, Truth, Love
PresidentSerene Jones
Academic staff
Students212 (including 124 M.Div. students)[1]
Address3041 Broadway, New York, NY 10027, New York City (Morningside Heights, Manhattan), New York, US
AffiliationsColumbia University
Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary (New York City) is located in New York City
Union Theological Seminary (New York City)
Union Theological Seminary (New York City) is located in New York
Union Theological Seminary (New York City)
Union Theological Seminary (New York City) is located in the US
Union Theological Seminary (New York City)
LocationW. 120th St. and Broadway, New York, NY 10027
CoordinatesCoordinates: 40°48′41″N 73°57′51″W / 40.81139°N 73.96417°W / 40.81139; -73.96417
Area2.3 acres (0.93 ha)
ArchitectAllen & Collens
Architectural styleLate Gothic Revival, Collegiate Gothic, Other
NRHP reference #80002725[2]
Added to NRHPApril 23, 1980
Brown Memorial Tower

Union is affiliated with neighboring Columbia University. Since 1928, the seminary has served as Columbia's constituent faculty of theology. Although administratively independent, Union is represented in Columbia's governance structure and appoints one faculty member and one student to the Columbia University Senate. In 1964, Union also established an affiliation with the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary of America.



1893 campus, Park Avenue and 70th Street[5]
Side view at Claremont Avenue between W.120th and W.119th streets (1910).

Union's campus is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan, bordered by Claremont Avenue, Broadway, W. 120th St. and W. 122nd St. The brick and limestone English Gothic revival architecture, by Francis R. Allen (1844–1931) and Collins, completed in 1910, includes the tower (pictured), which adapts features of the crossing tower of Durham Cathedral. Adjacent to Teachers College, Barnard College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Manhattan School of Music, Union has cross-registration and library access agreements with all of these schools.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 23, 1980. Some sections of the campus are now on long-term lease to Columbia University.

Union's urban campus is regarded by some to be among the most beautiful in the United States. The inner quadrangle and other various halls and rooms are often used as a filming location by the motion picture industry.


The Columbia University Burke Library, the largest theological library in the western hemisphere, contains holdings of over 700,000 items. The Library is recognized as one of the premier theological libraries in the world and includes extensive holdings of unique and special materials, including Greek census records from 20 CE, a rare 12th Century manuscript of the Life of St. Boniface, a 1520 imprint of Martin Luther’s first published writing, and one of the first African-American hymnals, published in Philadelphia in 1818.

The Burke Library offers a number of world-renowned archival collections, including the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship and the Missionary Research Library Archives.

In 2004 Union's Burke Library became fully integrated into the Columbia University Library system, which holds over 10 million volumes. The library is named in honor of Walter Burke, a generous benefactor to the library who served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Seminary from 1976 to 1982.


Union Theological Seminary (UTS) was founded in 1836. During the late 19th century it became one of the leading centers of liberal Christianity in the United States. In 1891, Charles A. Briggs, who was being installed as the chair of Biblical Studies, delivered an inaugural address in which he questioned the verbal inspiration of Scripture.[6] When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. vetoed Briggs' appointment and eventually deposed Briggs for heresy two years later, Union removed itself from denominational oversight.[7] In 1939 the Auburn Theological Seminary moved to its campus.[8]

Among its graduates were the historian of Christianity Arthur McGiffert; biblical scholar James Moffatt; Harry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church who served as professor during his tenure there; and the Socialist leader Norman Thomas.

Union Theological Seminary entrance on Broadway.

In 1895, members of the Union Theological Seminary Alumni Club founded Union Settlement Association, one of the oldest settlement houses in New York City. After visiting Toynbee Hall in London and inspired by the example of Hull House in Chicago, the alumni decided to create a settlement house in the area of Manhattan enclosed on the north and south by East 96th and 110th Streets and on the east and west by the East River and Central Park.

Known as East Harlem, it was a neighborhood filled with new tenements but devoid of any civic services. The ethos of the settlement house movement called for its workers to “settle” in such neighborhoods in order to learn first-hand the problems of the residents. “It seemed to us that, as early settlers, we had a chance to grow up with the community and affect its development,” wrote William Adams Brown, Theology Professor, Union Theological Society (1892–1930) and President, Union Settlement Association (1915–1919).[9]

Union Settlement still exists, providing community-based services and programs to support the immigrant and low-income residents of East Harlem. One of East Harlem's largest social service agencies, Union Settlement reaches more than 13,000 people annually at 17 locations throughout East Harlem through a range of programs, including early childhood education, youth development, senior services, job training, the arts, adult education, nutrition, counseling, a farmers' market, community development, and neighborhood cultural events.

Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich made UTS the center of both liberal and neo-orthodox Protestantism in the post-War period. Prominent public intellectual Cornel West commenced a promising academic career at UTS in 1977. As liberalism lost ground to conservatism after the 1960s (while neo-orthodoxy dissipated) and thus declined in prestige, UTS ran into financial difficulties and shrank significantly because of a reduced student base.

Eventually, the school agreed to lease some of its buildings to Columbia University and to transfer ownership of and responsibility for the Burke Library to Columbia. These agreements helped stabilize the school's finances, which had been hobbled by increasing library costs and the need for substantial campus repairs.

On July 1, 2008, feminist theologian Serene Jones became Union's first female president in its 172-year history, succeeding Joseph C. Hough, Jr.[10]

According to Columbia Wiki, "Union has a distinguished history among graduate theological institutions. Its faculty has always ranked among the best in the world and has included such luminaries as Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, James Cone, Cornel West, and others. Its students come from around the country and the world. The seminary is known for its progressive understanding of religion in general, and Progressive Christianity in particular, and has long been at the forefront of the great social movements in this nation's history."[11]

On June 10, 2014, Jones announced that the Seminary would be joining the movement to divest from the fossil fuels industry in protest at the damage the industry is causing to the environment.[12] The Seminary's $108 million endowment will no longer include any fossil fuel investments.


In 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Postgraduate Teaching Fellow at the seminary. He later returned in 1939 to be a member of the faculty and to escape Nazi harassment in Germany. He soon regretted his decision and decided that he had to return to Germany to resist the Nazis. He took the last ship from New York to Germany in late August 1939. Due to his secret involvement with the 20 July plot on Hitler's life, he was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 8 April 1945, only 15 days before the United States Army liberated the camp.

Both Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich taught at the seminary during the post-World War II period.

Dr. Serene Jones, the seminary's first female president, was inaugurated in November 2008. Dr. Joseph Hough, UTS' immediate past president, is a Christian Democratic Socialist. Henry Sloane Coffin was a past president. Civil Rights Activist Cornel West joined the faculty in July 2012. Dr. James Hal Cone is one of the founders of liberation theology and is active in the development of African-American theology.

Union has also been home to Womanist theologians such as Delores S. Williams. Dr. Gary Dorrien is a social ethicist. Dr. James A. Forbes, the former senior pastor of the adjacent Riverside Church, is an adjunct professor at the seminary and had been a full-time, chaired professor before accepting the Riverside post.

Notable current facultyEdit

Several of Union's members also teach in the Religious Studies department at Columbia University, the Teachers College, Columbia University, New York Theological Seminary, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Notable former facultyEdit

Notable alumniEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. ^ Union Theological Seminary – Timeline, 1836 to 1869
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Union Theological Seminary".
  6. ^ D.G. Hart & John Muether Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2007) pg. 183
  7. ^ Hart & Muether, pg. 183
  8. ^ "About Us". Auburn Theological Seminary web site. Archived from the original on 2010-02-21. Retrieved 2010-01-21.
  9. ^ A Teacher and His Times, William Adams Brown, Scribner, 1940.
  10. ^ Union Theological Seminary – Serene Jones, President of the Faculty
  11. ^ Columbia Wiki
  12. ^ "WeAreClimateChange". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  13. ^ Niebuhr, Gustav (1998-08-11). "Raymond E. Brown, 70, Dies; A Leading Biblical Scholar". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  14. ^ "The Vatican levies further penalties on Roger Haight, SJ - Commonweal Magazine". Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  15. ^ "Peter Phan". Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  16. ^ Metaxas, Eric| Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy 2010, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 101
  17. ^ "Home". Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  18. ^ Martin, Douglas. "George W. Webber, Social Activist Minister, Dies at 90", The New York Times, July 12, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2010.
  19. ^ Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul, Grand Rapids: Baker Press. Description. Forthcoming, Nov. 15, 2016.


  • Handy, Robert T. A History of Union Theological Seminary in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

External linksEdit