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About BST

Our History

Berkeley School of Theology (BST) (1871) has served at the center of Baptist and ecumenical theological education in the far west of the United States for the last 150 years. BST is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches in the United States (ABCUSA) and is a founding school of the Graduate Theological Union (1962). Prominent American Baptist leaders in America include the founding father of Rhode Island, Roger Williams; businessman, John D. Rockefeller and educator, Laura Spelman Rockefeller; social gospel theologian, Walter Rauschenbusch; U.S. Presidents Warren Harding and Harry Truman; Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.; U.S. Senator, Rev. Rafael Warnock; and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a member of the BST Board of Trustees. Though steeped in the historic “free church” heritage, BST board, faculty and students hail from a variety of denominational and religious traditions in the U.S. and around the world.

In the early 1840’s, while California was still a part of Mexico, the Baptist Home Missions Society (BHMS) sent its first mission-workers to the Bay Area with the specific mandate to inaugurate educational institutions. Those early dreams were waylaid until 1863 when the first educational convention of the new Baptist association was held in San Francisco. Berkeley School of Theology traces its lineage to this visionary spirit of BHMS that was also establishing Baptist educational institutions during the Reconstruction period in American history for men and women freed from slavery and Native Americans seeking education. Colleges like Morehouse, Spelman, Ottawa, and Bacone College, along with Berkeley School of Theology, were all established by BHMS in the spirit of liberty and justice for all. Indeed, an early president of Berkeley School of Theology was one of four ministers to preach at President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, while another Baptist educator would soon become the eighth president of UC Berkeley just down the road. The Sather Gates and land-mark Campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the UC Berkeley campus speak to Baptist philanthropy, leadership and commitment to higher education in Northern California and at Berkeley School of Theology.

Berkeley School of Theology was chartered in 1871 as California College. The pioneering and innovative spirit of its founders has guided it through a series of mergers and transformations under seven different names throughout its 150-year history. The historic architecture of the main campus was designed by the famed Berkeley architect, Julia Morgan. Today BST, offers a wide range of programs from specialized certificates, several Masters degrees leading to the Doctor of Ministry or the Ph.D.

Berkeley School of Theology offers its students a myriad of theological and interreligious resources and classes through cross-registration in the largest partnership of seminaries, centers and graduate schools of theology and religion in the United States. In addition, BST students have access to one of the finest theological libraries in the world, and an uncommonly large faculty of distinguished scholars, along with the resources of the University of California, Berkeley. Studying at Berkeley School of Theology offers one of the greatest spiritual adventures of a lifetime, preparing our graduates to serve God, churches, and the whole world in a host of different ministry settings.

FAQ about the 2020 Name Change

Since at least 2005, ABSW Board members, faculty, and administrators have recommended that the possibility of a name change be explored. In 2017, the Strategic Plan called for reaching a decision on this question once and for all.  

Yes. Over a fifteen-year period, we had two consulting firms do two comprehensive market studies (inside and out) that invited us to consider changing our name for a variety of strategic, marketing, institutional branding, and reasons related to our mission and identity. 

In the nearly one-hundred and fifty years, Berkeley School of Theology has merged with other schools at least three times officially and have had at least five different names — more if we extend our history back prior to our official incorporation in 1871. We are the last of the twenty-six colleges, universities and seminaries affiliated with the American Baptist denomination to relinquish the name “Baptist” for purposes of marketing to a broader, more inclusive audience. 

After soliciting a long list of possible names linked to geographical location, famous Baptist and other leaders, Baptist core values, “blue-sky” suggestions and after hours of deliberation, the Board unanimously settled on the name Berkeley School of Theology for the following reasons:

  • It’s a positive connection to our earlier name Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, heyday in the institution’s history, noting that Berkeley Divinity School (at Yale) was already taken.
  • Historic connections to UC Berkeley through its early famous Baptist president (Benjamin Wheeler) and major Baptist supporters (Sather Gates & Campanile)
  • Cross-registration between BST and the Graduate Theological Union & UC Berkeley
  • Research indicates its prestige-appeal to international students and scholars
  • Positive inclusive marketing for a diverse student body and new faculty
  • Positive name alignment with most other “Schools” of the Graduate Theological Union

No. The Board of Trustees unanimously voted to add the byline: “Creating Communities of Christian Hope, Justice and Reconciliation” to be used alongside our new name because it so closely aligns with our historic mission. The core mission of BST as articulated in our Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws will remain at the center of the academic experience. We believe that this new name marks a new era, a new beginning, in which we are able to share the historic Baptist core values in ever new and appealing ways uniquely situated for the post-modern, post-millennial, post-Christian world unfolding before us. The engaging and revised curriculum and pedagogy make the education offered both special and prestigious, and it will remain true to our spiritual DNA.

We expect the name change will open the school of theology to prospective students who wouldn’t have considered us previously and will better reflect students already here from some twenty-two denominations across the globe. The name “Baptist” is an increasingly high hurdle to overcome in promoting a positive inclusive and welcoming voice to a new generation.

Yes, in that we have recently undergone extensive curriculum revisions in which all of our courses now align across four themes: 1) creative church and community; 2) spirituality and resilience; 3) border-crossing and bridge-building; and 4) justice and reconciliation.

We offer certificate (BA-Equivalency) and graduate degree programs in three languages (English, Korean and Spanish) and many online options, including a complete fully online Master’s degree. A student at BST can take over one hundred different religious studies classes in any given semester from among the schools of the Graduate Theological Union, of which we are a founding school.

Diplomas and official transcripts will utilize the new name. Students enrolled before the name change will be able to choose to receive either named option on their diplomas and transcripts. After the transition period, students will receive a diplomas and transcripts under the new name. Anyone who received transcripts or diplomas in years past can request transcripts or diplomas with the new name. Graduates of any named predecessor of BST, can, if they wish, refer to the new name on their resumes and for professional identification.

The design of the new logo closely aligns with the former logo using the same color scheme. The cross of the logo closely resembles the engraved stone-cross embedded in the wooden mantle over the fireplace in the old Crouch Memorial Library in Hobart Hall. A circular option closely resembles the circular logo of Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, as well.

Yes. The new website can be reached by using the new domain name for Berkeley School of Theology www.bst.edu. The old domain name will be forwarded to the new domain. Email will also be changed accordingly (name@bst.edu)

Eternal God, as we open wide the doors of Berkeley School of Theology, we open our hearts to you. Be with us as we cross this new threshold of our school, that it will be filled with your holy presence. May our doors be open to everyone who is a part of our community or longs to belong. May our doors be wide enough to welcome all who seek your wisdom and care. And may the doors of Berkeley School of Theology be the way through which all who enter in turn, go out to minister and serve the world in your name. Through Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

Questions? Contact Sam Fielder at sfielder@bst.edu.