MARAIS JACON-DUFFY and MAGGIE MONSON | News Editor and Copy Editor

The Christian Theological Seminary may be known by most Butler University students as a group of large buildings at the end of Greek row or a residence where some students live.

However, the history between CTS and Butler reveals a much deeper relationship than just being neighbors. And that relationship had been revived in the past few years.

CTS installed Matthew Myer Boulton as its sixth president in 2011. Butler President James Danko arrived at Butler the same year to assume his current position. Since then, interaction between the two organizations has been frequent.

“President Boulton came in the same time I did, and we kind of hit it off personally,” Danko said in an interview with The Collegian after the opening of The Desmond Tutu Center. “We’ve had discussions, and the time is right for us to think in a more collaborative way.”

But the relationship shared by the two institutions was far different many years ago.


Ovid Butler founded North Western Christian University in 1855 as a religious institution under the Disciples of Christ—a sect of Christian Protestantism that historically supported abolition and gender equality.

The school became Butler University around 1877.

North Western Christian University was originally founded to train pastors, said Chad Bauman, head of Butler’s religion and philosophy department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Butler’s College of Religion started around 1893 and began as the entity that would later break off to become CTS.

However, the College of Religion almost did not survive because of problems with funding, despite the religious foundation.

Scot Butler, the son of founder Ovid Butler, started a campaign to raise money to support his father’s vision of a College of Religion.

The college struggled to be successful until it was officially established as a university graduate program in 1924.

The college became a very attractive option for African-American students from 1927 through 1944, said Sally Childs-Helton, rare books and speical collections librarian at Butler.

Butler incorporated a quota system where only 10 African-American students could be admitted to the entire institution every school year.

In the fall of 1926, 29 African-American freshmen were enrolled in Butler. In the fall of 1927, only nine African-American freshmen were enrolled because of the quota.

However, the College of Religion was not held accountable to follow the quota and admitted and enrolled as many African-American students as it pleased.

Students enrolled in the School of Religion could take any class at Butler, Childs-Helton said. So African-American students could earn a degree in religion but take classes intended for any program, should they want to.

Through this loophole, many African-American students took advantage of the opportunity to bypass the quota system via the College of Religion.

During the 1950s, the university’s Board of Trustees wanted to exert more control over the relatively autonomous College of Religion, Childs-Helton said.

The College of Religion had become very successful amongst all students by this time and neared its student capacity.

At the same time, Butler began loosening ties with the Disciples of Christ church and was a nearly-secular school, Childs-Helton said.

“Butler was following a national trend,” Childs-Helton said. “Almost every (private) college in the United States was founded out of a religious affiliation, but most are no longer religious.”

Butler and its College of Religion became separate entities in 1958. The split was amicable, Childs-Helton said.

The College of Religion changed its name to the Christian Theological Seminary after the split. The seminary moved to its current location in 1966.

Butler kept ties with the Disciples of Christ until religious disaffiliation in 1978, according to Mac Waller’s book, “Butler University: A Sesquicentennial History.”

While Butler University did not officially sever ties with the Disciples of Christ until 1978, Childs-Helton said the presence of religion on Butler’s campus began diminishing around the 1940s, if not earlier.

Bauman said he thinks Butler’s religious history is not well known by the majority of the community.

“I think many people just aren’t aware of Butler’s history with the Disciples of Christ,” Bauman said. “You can still see crosses in the architecture of the buildings, but Butler has definitely made the transition to that of a secular university, as many colleges have.”

Butler’s roots as an abolitionist university and affiliation with the Disciples of Christ Church may have attributed to the diversity and inclusivity now associated with CTS, Childs-Helton said.

“CTS prides itself on being one of the most diverse seminaries in the United States,” Childs-Helton said, “which really goes back to the roots of Butler and the history of diversity there as well.”


CTS and Butler did not collaborate much on a large scale for more than 40 years after the two entities broke apart. However, recent changes in administration at Butler and CTS have brought freshness to the relationship.

The two schools are now working together on the creation of The Desmond Tutu Center, announced Sept. 12.

The center will focus on leadership development in areas of social justice and reconciliation, international relationships, and interreligious and community bridge-building, according to a Butler press release.

“I’m sure (the center) is going to continue to open up conversation about opportunities between the two campuses,” Danko said.

The planned center will allow Butler and CTS to ponder new ways of working together in the future, Boulton said.

“I think there are really wonderful opportunities for these two schools to say, ‘What can we do together that we can’t do apart?’” Boulton said. “This Desmond Tutu Center is a perfect example of what I think is the kind of thing that could be very exciting with the community.

“(It could be exciting for) both the religious community here in Indiana, but also the non-religious community in Indiana, and really a kind of fully ecumenical, fully inclusive approach to learning.”

The center will be led by the Rev. Allan Boesak, a South African clergyman, politician and activist.

Boesak was appointed to the Desmond Tutu Chair for Peace, Global Justice and Reconciliation Studies last June—a four-year position jointly held between Butler and CTS—after coming to Indianapolis on a one-year joint visiting appointment between Butler and CTS last school year.

Boesak will also serve as the planned center’s first director.

The revived relationship between Butler and CTS has had more immediate effects for Butler students as well.

No classes exist that Butler and CTS students can attend simultaneously, Bauman said. Should a Butler student want to take a class at CTS, the process would be worked out by the academic department.

However, Bauman said Butler students—some religion majors and some not—will sometimes use CTS’s vast library for religious-based research and projects.

Butler has an inter-library loan deal with CTS, so any Butler student can check out books from CTS’s library or use the facilities with a Butler ID.

Butler junior Katie Kruse first used the CTS library for a project in her Faith, Doubt and Reason class, but said she has since returned to the library.

“I’ve gone thee to kind of get way from campus from time to time or to study in a new place,” Kruse said.

CTS has also helped Butler with housing difficulties.

For the past two school years, Butler sophomores, juniors or seniors have had the option to live in the CTS apartments, which feature graduate-style housing with a bedroom and bathroom for each resident.

Butler junior Alex Petersen is living in a CTS apartment this school year.

“I enjoy living in CTS,” Petersen said. “It’s nice and we have a lot of space. It feels like we’re living on our own.”

Petersen said he does not see many CTS students or families on a daily basis.

“My side of the building is all Butler people, so I really only see Butler students there,” Petersen said. “There is a basketball court where kids who live in the building will play, so sometimes we interact there. And there’s a lady whose dog always chases us on our bikes.”

Students also lived in CTS as a result of a housing shortage during the construction of Butler’s Apartment Village.


In the nine years he has been at Butler, Bauman said he knows of only one Butler student who went on to pursue higher religious education at CTS.

He said Butler’s religion department and CTS, while both religious educators, have very different goals for teaching and host different audiences of learners.

Students at Butler pursuing an education in religion will be informed about the various religions of the world, and no particular religion will be promoted, Bauman said.

Students at a seminary, however, have a specific career goal in mind pertaining to the church and are actively working toward that goal.

Bauman said he encourages religion students to take a class at CTS should they find a class that specifically relates to their main area of study.

However, this is not common at Butler yet.

“The path between CTS and Butler doesn’t carry as much traffic as the path between IUPUI and Butler does,” Bauman said.

The relationship between Butler and CTS faculty is one of “mutual respect,” Bauman said.

“Many Butler faulty in all departments have individual relationships with CTS faculty,” Bauman said. “Some collaborate over research and projects, or even shared interests or areas of expertise.”

Bauman said he believes the creation of The Desmond Tutu Center will further what he believes is already a good relationship.

“The Tutu Center will hopefully allow Butler and CTS to explore the possibility of further collaboration,” Bauman said. “At this point in time the relationship is good, but only small slices of the schools overlap. I think something to the magnitude of The Tutu Center will demand further cooperation and interaction between Butler and CTS, and will hopefully strengthen the relationship even more.”

Danko said he hopes collaboration with CTS regarding The Desmond Tutu Center will be a good move for Butler to gain international attention.

“We hope we gain international stature as a university that is on the leading edge of dialogue and thought leadership in this area,” Danko said.
“We do have a history of that already at Butler University, and we’ve got some outstanding professors here in religion, political science and sociology whose area of exploration has been very much in peace, justice and reconciliation. What (the center) does, it brings together another piece of that.”


Related posts