A Look Back at Our First 50 Years: The History of the Graduate Theological Foundation

by Kyna • December 12, 2012

The roots of the Foundation reach back to the convening of Vatican II in 1962, when the Conference on Religious Development was formed to undertake theological and religious education programs in the context of the newly emerging ecumenical relationships among the various Protestant and Catholic communions.   During the following years, the Conference conducted a variety of residential programs at the Conference Center at Madison, Connecticut, for professionals in ministry and education, and members of religious communities.  During the early days and up to the present, Father Robley Whitson, formerly head of theology at Fordham University, and his faculty colleague in spirituality at Fordham, the late Professor Ewert Cousins, were the creators of this grand initiative.


Fr. Robley Whitson

Dr. Ewert Cousins


In rapid succession, major developments occurred with the Foundation moving to Indiana where it was chartered as a research and educational foundation authorized to award graduate degrees in the cognate fields of professional ministry.  The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Lord Robert Runcie, offered his support of the Foundation’s initiatives by appointing Dr. John Tinsley, Bishop of Bristol (UK), to be his official representative on behalf of the Church of England.  Krister Stendahl, Dean of Harvard University Divinity School, soon thereafter gave the 1988 Convocation Address for the Foundation, and Canon John Fenton of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, joined the faculty in biblical studies.  In recent years, Honorary Fellows have included Professor E. O. Wilson of Harvard University’s science faculty and The Very Revd John Moses, KCVO, Dean Emeritus of Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, who also served as the 2010 Runcie Lecturer.  This year, we welcomed Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who was the 2012 Runcie Lecturer and was inducted as an Honorary Fellow.  

In addition to the Foundation’s work in ecumenical ministries with Protestants, Catholics and Jews, the Foundation has also expanded to include the Muslim community.  In 1994, the Foundation awarded Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America (USA) at the time, an honorary doctorate and inducted him as an Honorary Fellow of the Foundation for his national contribution to Muslim-Christian relations.  The Islamic Studies program of the Foundation has now gained international attention and respect under the leadership of Dr. Omar Shahin.  Likewise, the Graduate Center for Pastoral Logotherapy, under the directorship of Dr. Ann Graber, has been recognized by the Viktor Frankl Institute of Vienna as a center for the specialized training of logotherapists.  In addition to the establishment of graduate degrees in Tribunal Studies on site in California, under the leadership of the Rev. Msgr. Charles Chaffman of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and more recently, the Foundation has also established an online Tribunal Studies degree program at the master's and doctoral level under the oversight of the Rev. Dr. David Mulvihill and the Rev. Dr. John Mulvihill of the Archdiocese of Chicago.



This year, we have added a new section to our homepage titled “We Are a Community of Scholars,” as a way of recognizing and honoring the important involvement of various scholars with the Foundation in the early days and throughout the years.  Among this distinguished group you will find The (late) Rt. Revd John Tinsley, who became involved in the early 1980’s with the Foundation as the official representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Robert Runcie, and became both a member of the Board of Studies of the Foundation and a member of the faculty; the late Rt. Rev. Krister Stendahl, formerly Dean of Harvard Divinity School, Bishop of Stockholm, and distinguished New Testament scholar who delivered one of the earliest lectures in our convocation lecture series (now named the Lord Runcie Convocation Lecture Series); the late Dr. Ewert Cousins, renowned scholar on world spirituality and professor emeritus at Fordham University, as well as senior faculty member of the Graduate Theological Foundation and Dean of the Foundation; and The (late) Revd Canon John Macquarrie, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Christ Church (College), Oxford, the Martin Heidegger Professor of Philosophical Theology at the Foundation, and one of the world’s leading Protestant theologians. 

Each member of this unique community played an integral role in helping to develop the Foundation, engage with our students, and serve the global academic community.  You can read biographies of these scholars on our website by clicking on our homepage or by clicking here.


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