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How Does Union Change the World?

In 1836, a small group of lay people and ministers, feeling “deeply impressed by the claims of the world upon the church,” came together to found Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Today Union lives out this call to service by training people of all faiths and none who are called to the work of social justice in the world. Union students are dedicated to an integrated journey of intellect, spirit, and community to discover and define the faith and values that will sustain their vocation. Pastor, community leader, professor, performer, doctor, lawyer, educator, artist—whatever it may be.

Union is where faith and scholarship meet to reimagine the work of justice.

The city of New York, far from serving as a backdrop, gives students direct access to the flux and flurry of the complex interactions and struggles present in urban contexts. Union’s founders placed the seminary in New York specifically because “large cities furnish many peculiar facilities and advantages for conducting theological education.”

In the mid-1800s, this meant that just outside the doors of the seminary students encountered a microcosm of the nation’s most pressing issues: an influx of immigration, a disturbing rise in poverty, and racial unrest in the aftermath of abolition. Though present in new forms, these same challenges face New York today.

Union’s ecumenical and interfaith commitment grows deeper every year. Union students seek to address not only the questions facing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, but also the questions facing the entire world as it becomes more global, international, and secular. Informed by the insights of liberation theologians and scholars who belong to more than one faith tradition, the seminary embraces the richness and realities of religious pluralism and seeks to amplify the bold voices of the historically silenced in a world of increasing inequality.

With one foot planted firmly in academia and one foot firmly the world, Union recommits itself in each new era to the varied and evolving society beyond its classrooms. Throughout the seminary’s history, this commitment has attracted a vibrant and diverse community of students and professors. From Reinhold Niebuhr, President Barack Obama’s “favorite philosopher,” to prophetic public theological Cornel West. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, James Cone, Paul Tillich, Dorothee Sölle, Garry Dorrien, Delores Williams, Walter Rauschenbusch, Beverly Harrison, James Forbes, and Myles Horton have all studied, taught, or currently teach at Union.

These world-famous professors challenge their students to think more broadly. They lead their fields in cutting-edge theological inquiry. From Womanism and queer theology to liberal and neo-orthodox Protestantism, Union has and continues to work at the forefront of great social movements.

Union aspires to provide an education that is foundational, interreligious, boundary-crossing, world-changing, counter-cultural, and communal.