In the 1830s, the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church began to discuss the value of theological education for its ministers. The debate culminated in 1839 in the formation of a school for the improvement of theological training, making the School of Theology (STH) the first Methodist seminary in the country, as well as the founding school of what is now Boston University.
Although starting from rural origins in Vermont, the School soon moved to Beacon Hill in Boston. Early graduates founded and shaped such nineteenth-century forms of urban outreach as Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and Deaconess Hospital, earning their alma mater the nickname “School of the Prophets.” Women received graduate degrees at STH a full century before other institutions would admit them. STH welcomed East Asians as students when they were excluded from U.S. citizenship. We trained generations of African Americans when they were not admitted elsewhere, producing some of the most widely known leaders of the civil rights movement for social justice-Martin Luther King Jr., Samuel Proctor, and James Lawson, to name a few. STH was the first theological school to appoint non-Christians to its faculty. Throughout its history, STH has produced a disproportionately large percentage of Methodist bishops, both for the U.S. and abroad. To understand the meaning of the School of the Prophets is to trace our history through the people who have created the STH legacy with their lives and myriad ministries.
Our School’s history of marrying academic rigor with social justice is still vital and effective nearly two centuries later Today, we continue to attract students who seek the best theological training to take action in their local, national, or global context. This is a major distinguishing factor of our School: we believe that to want to change the world is more than cliche-it is actually possible.
Boston University School of Theology is one of about 15 university-based seminaries in the United States. We are a small professional school of approximately 300 students, and yet we enjoy the resources of the country’s fourth-largest private research university. Academically, this means interdisciplinary study is available and encouraged; our students can take courses at other schools within the University, such as the schools of Management, Social Work, Public Health, Communication, Music, or Education. Socially, STH students can take part in any or all facets of the University’s vibrant student life, from the state-of-the-art Fitness & Recreation Center, to extracurricular groups that fulfill every conceivable interest, to major on-campus concerts and sporting events. It is the best of both worlds – the personal attention of a small school and the extraordinary resources of a major university.
Our School has welcomed a diverse community of scholars since its founding, and people of varying backgrounds are still drawn to its cosmopolitan university setting. The student body represents great strength in ethnic, gender, and theological diversity. International students make up about one-third of our student population; the world literally meets in the classroom here. The faculty draws upon these diversities to enrich the learning experience – this is not a school where everyone thinks alike, but a place where students of all backgrounds are challenged, and ultimately strengthened, by their exposure to different ideas and people.