Less than three years after he began his ministry in the United States in December 1971, Reverend Moon initiated plans for the establishment of his young church’s first theological seminary. For this purpose, in 1974 the church purchased the campus of St. Joseph’s Normal Institute, a Christian Brothers boarding school located in the Hudson Valley that had recently closed. Dr. David S. C. Kim was appointed to establish the Seminary and lead it as its first president. President Kim assembled a faculty and staff, and on September 20, 1975 UTS welcomed the first class of 56 students, who enrolled in a two year Religious Education Program. In 1980 the Seminary added a three year Divinity Program to better prepare students for ministerial leadership.
Over its first years, Reverend Moon often visited the campus, sharing with students in the classroom or on long walks around the 250 acre campus. He initiated a tradition of fishing in the Hudson River, personally showing the students how to prepare fishing nets, and guided the creation of a soccer field and scenic pond.
Reflecting Reverend Moon’s commitment to bring unity to the whole human family, interreligious encounters have been a central component of the school’s history and vision. UTS’s first faculty, rich in its own diversity, encompassed the breadth of the Judeo-Christian tradition, hailing from Methodist, Reformed, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Jewish faiths. Ecumenical conferences, originating in February 1977, attracted scholars and religious leaders from a wide range of denominational backgrounds. Published transcripts of these conferences offered insights into the emergence of a new Christian vision and its encounter with traditional churches and their theologies.
The roster of distinguished scholars who visited UTS in the late 1970s and early 1980s for programs included: Harvey Cox of Harvard University, Lonnie Kleiver of Southern Methodist University, Jewish theologian Richard Rubenstein, Martin Rumscheidt, President of the Karl Barth Society, Father John Meehen, President of Maryknoll Seminary, religious educator James Michael Lee, biblical scholar Simon De Vries of the Methodist Theological School, psychologist Albert Ellis, folklorist Morton Smith from Columbia University, Augustine scholar Ernest Fortin from Boston College, Theodor Gaster from Barnard College, church historian Robert Handy from Union Theological Seminary, National Review editor William Rusher, Buddhist scholar David Kalupahana from the University of Hawaii, Islamic scholar and martyr Isma’il al-Faruqi from Temple University, the Hassidic singing rabbi Schlomo Carlebach, and many more.
Building on these early conferences, interfaith initiatives were organized at UTS, including the Global Congress of the World’s Religions (1977) and the Youth Seminar on the World’s Religions (1982). The most important of these was the New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA), begun in 1979 and guided by then UTS librarian John Maniatis. New ERA developed as an interfaith community of theologians, guided by an interfaith board. Its conferences brought together hundreds of religious scholars for wide-ranging discussions and to study Unification theology. For many, these conferences were catalysts for their own creative advances in ecumenical thinking. Out of New ERA arose several independent interfaith organizations based in New York City, among them the Religious Youth Service (1986) and the Universal Peace Federation (2001). These organizations continue to play significant roles in the world as catalysts for peace and interreligious harmony.
In 1984 the Seminary received a provisional charter from the State of New York, and on January 17, 1990 it was granted its Absolute Charter. On November 21, 1996 the Seminary was granted initial accreditation by Middle States Commission of Higher Education. This accreditation was reaffirmed in 2003, 2010, and 2016.
With the retirement of President Kim in May 1994, Dr. Theodore Shimmyo, Associate Professor of Theology and a graduate of the UTS class of 1977, became the school’s second president. The themes of his administration were leadership development and the attitude of faithful attendance to God. Under his tenure UTS strengthened its field education program by instituting internships, prepared more than thirty missionaries for service in South America, inaugurated The Journal for Unification Studies (in 1997), and attained regional accreditation
Dr. Tyler Owen Hendricks, president of the Unification Church of America from 1995-2000 and a member of the UTS class of 1978, became the school’s third president in May of 2000. Under his tenure, UTS gave new emphasis to strengthening professional skills for ministry and renewed its commitment to educate students from all churches. To this end, in September 2000 UTS established an Extension Center in New York City, with an interdenominational faculty and staff serving students of diverse denominations. UTS obtained approval for its Doctor of Ministry program, inaugurated in 2006, and a M.A. in Religious Studies, begun in 2009.
In June 2010, Dr. Richard A. Panzer, a graduate of the UTS class of 1979, became the fourth President of UTS. Under his leadership, the Seminary began development of an undergraduate program that was approved in 2013 by NYSED, but has since been suspended. UTS began its Applied Unificationism blog in 2013 and a Clinton, Maryland Instructional Site in 2014 focused on expanding ministry opportunities through a collaborative relationship with Total You Integrative Medical Center.
In May 2015 Dr. Hugh D. Spurgin, a graduate of the first class in 1977, became the fifth UTS President. Under his tenure, UTS observed the 40th year from its founding, reaffirmed its regional accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, increased enrollment in its graduate programs, strengthened its relationship with its sponsoring church, placed greater emphasis on its website and social media, and began preparations for intensive and online learning initiatives.