Berkeley Center

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

Berkeley Divinity School was founded in 1854. The seminary looks back with pride on the rich history that has brought Berkeley to a place of distinction among Episcopal seminaries and theological schools.

History & Identity

Berkeley was founded in 1854 and became full partner and affiliate of Yale Divinity School in 1971.

Berkeley Divinity School is the Episcopal seminary at Yale. Berkeley is vibrant and intimate, while enjoying the benefits of a comprehensive world-renowned faculty, a highly qualified and diverse student body, and libraries and facilities of the highest caliber. 

Berkeley students are formed by the centrality of daily worship, deliberate attention to the spiritual life, and a concentrated course of study in Anglican history and theology. 

In 1854, Bishop John Williams of Connecticut saw the need for a new seminary to be a mediating influence during a time of theological division in the Episcopal Church. Williams founded the Berkeley Divinity School in Middletown, Connecticut, as a place where students from the various streams of Anglicanism could learn, worship, live and minister alongside one another. 

Yale became one of the earliest accepted places for Anglican candidates for ministry in America to read theology, graduating such pioneers as Samuel Seabury, the first bishop in The Episcopal Church.

After founding Berkeley, Bishop Williams, who later became Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, served as Dean of the seminary until 1899. As indicated by the School’s motto, in illa quae ultra sunt (“into the regions beyond”), the seminary has for over 150 years prepared clergy, educators and other leaders to serve throughout the church as part of its mission of “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

In 1928, Dean William Palmer Ladd moved Berkeley Divinity School to New Haven, adjacent to the campus of Yale University, both to take advantage of Yale’s resources and to immerse the students in the new social reality of the industrial city. A pioneer of the Liturgical Movement in the Episcopal Church, Dean Ladd envisioned a vibrant sacramental life nourishing an ongoing commitment to social justice that continues to shape Berkeley’s mission to this day.

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Berkeley College at Yale, and Berkeley, California all share a namesake: the 18th-century Anglo-Irish philosopher and bishop, George Berkeley. 

In 1729, George Berkeley traveled from Ireland to the Americas. Berkeley purchased and moved into Whitehall farm in Newport, Rhode Island, where he wrote, preached, and founded a philosophical society. There, he dreamed of the Bermuda project: a theological college in Bermuda to train the sons of colonists for ministry. He waited in Newport for funding from King George I that never came. 

While living in Rhode Island, Berkeley developed a friendship with Samuel Johnson, Yale class of 1714, an Anglican priest who is sometimes called “The Father of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.” Samuel Johnson would go on to found King’s College (now Columbia University). Due to encouragement from Samuel Johnson, when George Berkeley abandoned the Bermuda project, he left his estate in Newport and 900 books to a college in Connecticut that would later be called Yale. Yale’s first endowed scholarships were provided by income from Berkeley’s estate.

Yale and Slavery: A History by Sterling Professor of History David W. Blight reminds us of the difficulties attached to the figure of George Berkeley. Enslaved laborers worked Whitehall farm before and after Berkeley donated it to Yale, and George Berkeley is known to have bought at least three enslaved people himself. Berkeley made his views on slavery publicly known. While he “advocated for the baptism of enslaved people, and he condemned what he called ‘an irrational Contempt for the Blacks, as Creatures of another Species’” (Yale and Slavery: A History, 61), he did not challenge slavery and suggested that the conversion of slaves to Christianity could even benefit slaveholders. 

Berkeley was Yale’s benefactor long before Berkeley Divinity School was founded, but his reputation as scholar, educator, and bishop led the founders of the school to use his name a century after his time in the American colonies.

As a seminary of the Episcopal Church, Berkeley affiliated with Yale Divinity School in 1971, making it the only Episcopal seminary to be fully associated with a major research university. 

While Berkeley retains its distinctive Anglican identity and retains an independent board of trustees and administration, its students are admitted by and fully enrolled as members of Yale Divinity School. 

As Berkeley seminarians, students are formed by the centrality of daily corporate worship, deliberate attention to the spiritual life, and a concentrated course of study in Anglican history and theology. At the same time, as Yale students, they are incorporated into the rigorous academic program of a divinity school with a world-renowned faculty and library. They enjoy the full resources of the various professional schools, departments, and extra-curricular programs of Yale University.