Union Theological Seminary initially intrigued me when I found out that both Bonhoeffer and Heschel had connections there. That’s not too surprising, seeing as it is in the middle of New York City, but it definitely stands on its own as far as theology, as well as ethics. Other big names that taught there are Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, both preeminent theologians in their own right. Riverside Church is also a stone’s throw away (UTS does its convocations and commencements there, in fact), which is where MLK gave his famous “Silence is Betrayal” speech, setting him against some of his civil rights allies in opposing the Vietnam War. So there is good reason that Union was known as THE center of progressive theology in the 60’s and has some hefty history to back it up, besides its unbelievably internationally diverse faculty. They’re also on the tail end of financial troubles, so you can be sure they’re on their way up.
Headed there from Camden was fun, its about two hours by public transit. I was supposed to inaugurate my visit with an appointment with the president, Serene Jones, but something came up literally at the last moment, and I was unable to meet with her. Instead, I met with the Director of Admissions and went on a tour of the (smallish) campus with a student working there over the summer. The facilities were very nice, with a serene courtyard in the middle of the structure. After my tour, I was taken to lunch with my guide and another couple of students. I was very impressed with the conversations we had in our short time over Mexican food a short walk from the campus. I was very excited about the caliber of the students until I remembered that I had relatively few meetings with students, having visited all the schools outside the normal school year.
As a result of its financial troubles in the 80’s or so, the seminary has a very robust collaborative relationship with Columbia University, and all Union students are underneath Columbia as well, meaning all facilities at Columbia are available to UTS students as well (including, apparently a huge indoor gym and all the libraries, etc.). I got the chance to catch up with a friend of mine who is attending Columbia, and he spoke pretty highly of both his school and the greater NYC atmosphere. I don’t know how I would enjoy living in such a huge city, but that fact shouldn’t prevent me from matriculating, should I be accepted. One thing I enjoyed very much was the residential setting of Union; all of it’s faculty is required to live on campus, and 90% of its students do the same. I noticed when I was at Duke that I would enjoy that kind of communal atmosphere, (kind of reminds me of Harry Potter, but I don’t read the novels).
The only real beef I have with Union, however, is that it has a reputation of being very progressive. I say this because where I’m at now is a very tenuous place. I hit my own spiritual conversion pretty abruptly, and didn’t have much time to converse with the many forms of classical Christian thought, as Hauerwas would say. Union would certainly allow me to question many of the dogmas I may or may not totally be on board with, but in order to question them, I feel compelled to be educated in them first. All other things considered, Union is definitely one of my top two schools (one guess what the other one is).