Union Theological Seminary (New York City)

Coordinates: 40°48′41″N 73°57′51″W / 40.81139°N 73.96417°W / 40.81139; -73.96417
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Union Theological Seminary
Seal of Union Theological Seminary
Latin: Seminarium Theologicum Unioniense Novi Eboraci
Other name
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
MottoUnitas, Veritas, Caritas (Latin)
Motto in English
Unity, Truth, Love
TypePrivate seminary
Established1836; 187 years ago (1836)
Endowment$112.6 million (2019)[1]
PresidentSerene Jones
Academic staff
Location, ,
United States
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 United States
Union Theological Seminary (New York City)
LocationW. 120th St. and Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Coordinates40°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
NRHP reference No.80002725[2]
NYCL No.0595
Significant dates
Added to NRHPApril 23, 1980
Designated NYCLNovember 15, 1967 (Brown Memorial Tower, James Tower, James Memorial Chapel)[3]

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (UTS) is a private ecumenical Christian liberal seminary[4] in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, affiliated with Columbia University. Since 1928, the seminary has served as Columbia's constituent faculty of theology. In 1964, UTS also established an affiliation with the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary of America. UTS confers the following degrees: Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master of Divinity & Social Work dual degree (MDSW), Master of Arts in religion (MAR), Master of Arts in Social Justice (MASJ), Master of Sacred Theology (STM), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

UTS 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 USA,[5] but was open to students of all denominations. In 1893, UTS rescinded the right of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to veto faculty appointments, thus becoming fully independent.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. It houses the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, one of the largest theological libraries in the Western Hemisphere.[6]


Early history[edit]

1883 campus, Park Avenue and 70th Street[7]

Union Theological Seminary 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.[8] 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.[9] In 1939 the Auburn Theological Seminary moved to its campus and departed in 2014.[10]

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 Settlement[edit]

Side view at Claremont Avenue between W. 120th and W. 119th streets (1910)

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.

The neighborhood, known as East Harlem, was 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).[11]

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.

20th century to present[edit]

Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich made UTS the center of both liberal and neo-orthodox Protestantism in the inter-war period. Niebuhr joined UTS in 1929 and Tillich in 1933. 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.[12]

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.[13] The Seminary's $108 million endowment will no longer include any fossil fuel investments.

Although administratively independent from Columbia, Union is represented by one voting faculty member, and one non-voting student observer member, of the Columbia University Senate.[14]


Brown Memorial Tower
Union Theological Seminary entrance on Broadway

Union's campus is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, bordered by Claremont Avenue, Broadway, and West 120th and 122nd Streets. The brick and limestone English Gothic revival architecture, by architects Allen & Collens, completed in 1910, includes the tower, 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, and parts were made a New York City designated landmark in 1965.[3] Some sections of the campus are now on long-term lease to Columbia University.


The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, one of the largest theological libraries in North America, contains holdings of over 700,000 items. The Burke's holdings include extensive special collections, including Greek census records from 20 CE, a rare 12th-century manuscript of the Life of St. Boniface, and one of the first African-American hymnals, published in Philadelphia in 1818.

The Burke Library also maintains 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 Libraries system, which holds over 14 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.


Both Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich taught at the seminary. Nieburhr joined the faculty in 1929 and retired in 1952. Tillich was recruited by Niebuhr to UTS following his dismissal from the University of Frankfurt. Nazi officials terminated Tillich from the University of Frankfurt and placed him on their list of "undesirables". Tillich subsequently narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo in October 1933 and made his way out of Germany joining UTS in December, 1933.[15]

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. Writing of his experience there in his book Barcelona, Berlin, New York, Bonhoeffer was dismayed by the liberalism of the seminary and its students, noting, "The students are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. They are not familiar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, are amused at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level...."[16] Referring to Union Seminary, Bonhoeffer noted: "A seminary in which numerous students openly laugh during a public lecture because they find it amusing when a passage on sin and forgiveness ...is cited has obviously, despite its many advantages, forgotten what Christian theology in its very essence stands for" (pp. 309–10). 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 April 8, 1945, only 15 days before the United States Army liberated the camp.

American theologian, James Hal Cone, one of the founders of liberation theology and influential in the development of Black theology, began teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1970, holding the distinguished Charles A. Briggs Chair in systematic theology from 1977 until his death in 2018.

Serene Jones, the seminary's first female president, was inaugurated in November 2008. replacing Joseph Hough, UTS' immediate past president. Civil rights activist Cornel West joined the faculty in July 2012, and rejoined again in 2021.[17]

Notable current faculty[edit]

Cornel West
  • Mary C. Boys – Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology
  • David M. Carr – Professor of Old Testament; contributed to Genesis in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version)
  • Euan Cameron – Henry Luce, III Professor of Reformation Church History
  • Alan Cooper – Appointed Professor of Bible in 1998, becoming the first person to hold a joint professorship at both Union and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. His dual appointment has been described as a major step in strengthening ties between the two seminaries.
  • Pamela Cooper-White – Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion
  • Kelly Brown Douglas – Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary as well as the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral.
  • Gary Dorrien – American social ethicist and theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics
  • Roger Haight – Visiting professor of Theology
  • Esther J. Hamori - Professor of Hebrew Bible
  • Brigitte Kahl – Professor of New Testament
  • Chung Hyun Kyung – Associate Professor of Ecumenical Theology
  • Aliou C. Niang - Associate Professor of New Testament
  • Jerusha T. Rhodes - Associate Professor of Islam and Interreligious Engagement
  • Kosen Greg Snyder - Senior Director and assistant professor of Buddhist Studies
  • John J. Thatamanil – Professor of Theology and World Religions
  • Cornel West – Professor of Religious Philosophy and Christian Practice
  • Andrea C. White – Associate Professor of Theology and Culture
  • Jason Wright – Board of Trustees member[18]

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 faculty[edit]

James Cone
Delores S. Williams

Notable alumni[edit]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Oliver Crane
David Dellinger
Conrad Tillard
Raphael Warnock

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As of June 30, 2019. "U.S. and Canadian 2019 NTSE Participating Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2019 Endowment Market Value, and Percentage Change in Market Value from FY18 to FY19 (Revised)". National Association of College and University Business Officers and TIAA. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Union Theological Seminary" (PDF). New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. November 15, 1967. Retrieved December 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "Mission & Vision". Union Theological Seminary. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  5. ^ "Timeline, 1836 to 1869 - Union Theological Seminary". Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  6. ^ "The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary | Columbia University Libraries". library.columbia.edu.
  7. ^ A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City During the Last Quarter of a Century. New York City: Record and Guide. 1898. pp. 371.
  8. ^ Hart, D. G.; Muether, John (2007). Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing. p. 183. ISBN 9780875525747. OCLC 122974080.
  9. ^ Hart & Muether, pg. 183
  10. ^ "About Us". Auburn Theological Seminary web site. Archived from the original on February 21, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  11. ^ A Teacher and His Times, William Adams Brown, Scribner, 1940.
  12. ^ "Serene Jones, President of the Faculty and Roosevelt Professor of Systematic Theology - Union Theological Seminary". Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  13. ^ "WeAreClimateChange". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  14. ^ A Guide to the University Senate, University Senate Office, Columbia University (February 2019).
  15. ^ Stone, Ronald H. (2012). Politics and Faith: Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich at Union Seminary in New York. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0-88146-385-9.
  16. ^ Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2008). Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10) (1st English-language ed.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. pp. 265–266. ISBN 978-1-4514-7965-2. OCLC 33206791.
  17. ^ @CornelWest (March 8, 2021). "I am blessed to announce with my dear..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  18. ^ Ackerman, Jon (August 18, 2020). "Washington's Jason Wright follows Christ as he becomes NFL's first Black team president". SportsSpectrum.com. Archived from the original on September 4, 2020. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  19. ^ Niebuhr, Gustav (August 11, 1998). "Raymond E. Brown, 70, Dies; A Leading Biblical Scholar". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  20. ^ "Peter Phan". berkleycenter.georgetown.edu. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  21. ^ "Unitas Awards: Union Theological Seminary". Union Theological Seminary New York.
  22. ^ "Gets New Church Post". Courier News. December 20, 1955. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  23. ^ Roberts, Sam (November 19, 2021). "Rev. W. Sterling Cary, Pioneering Black Churchman, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  24. ^ Biographical Record of the Alumni of Amherst College, During Its First Half of the Century 1821–1871. W. S. Tyler (contribution). Amherst College. 1883. p. 189.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  25. ^ Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul, Grand Rapids: Baker Press. Description. Forthcoming, November 15, 2016.
  26. ^ "Home". Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  27. ^ "Who Is Raphael Warnock?: Everything To Know About Ebenezer Baptist Pastor Running For Georgia Senate". News One. January 30, 2020. Retrieved February 1, 2020.
  28. ^ Martin, Douglas. "George W. Webber, Social Activist Minister, Dies at 90", The New York Times, July 12, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Altman, Jake. Socialism Before Sanders: The 1930s Movement from Romance to Revisionism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
  • Handy, Robert T. A History of Union Theological Seminary in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

External links[edit]