Divinity marks 175th anniversary of New College

The University’s world-renowned School of Divinity has launched a series of events to celebrate the 175th birthday of its home.

The School is celebrating the anniversary of the day when Reverend Dr Thomas Chalmers – described as Scotland's greatest nineteenth-century churchman – laid the foundation stone of New College.

The date of 1846 is recognised in stone on the archway of the New College building, which sits on the Mound in Edinburgh and provides an iconic addition to the city’s skyline.

The declaration on 3 June 1846 heralded the beginning of a new era for the discipline, which has been taught at Edinburgh since the foundation of the University in 1583.

The School is among the highest ranked in the UK for the quality of its teaching and research in theology, divinity and religious studies. 

Opening event

Anniversary celebrations commence with an online opening service on 14 January. Stewart J. Brown, Professor of Ecclesiastical history, will speak about Chalmers' original vision for New College.

Reverend Professor David Fergusson OBE, who retired from his role as Principal of the University of Edinburgh's New College in 2018 after more than two decades in the Divinity Chair, will deliver a sermon.

Showcase videos

A programme of events throughout 2021 will reflect on Divinity’s achievements and mark a number of milestones.

This month Burn’s Night and Holocaust Memorial Day will be recognised with online public events, as will an International Women’s Day event in March.

A series of discussion events will shine a light on Divinity’s successes, and consider what the future holds for the discipline.

In February Lisa Isherwood, Professor of Feminist Liberation Theologies at the University of Winchester, will examine the changing face of Theology. An online exhibition will also examine New College’s past, present and future. 

Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland and Professor of Children, Law and Religion at the  University of Glasgow, is presenting a public lecture in March, titled ‘Children, religion and the earth they will inherit’.

International conferences

A series of conferences across the year will examines topical themes, including events on the state of preaching today, the 50th anniversary of religious studies and the future of theology and religious studies.

There will also be a conference in October to mark the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Organisers of the year-long celebrations are keen to hear from former graduates in the anniversary year.

An alumni lunch is planned to take place at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May.

Former Divinity graduates and current staff and students will also be sharing their stories with each other at a weekend celebration in June.

Festivities will close at the end of the year with a special edition of the School’s Christmas lunch and carol service, and the launch of Scotland’s only religious book festival, Winter Tales – a festival of Literature, Religion and the Imagination.

2021 is a very special year for New College. Although Divinity has been taught in Edinburgh for over 400 years, it was in 1846 - 175 years ago – that Thomas Chalmers laid the foundation stone of the New College buildings. We think that it is well worth celebrating and invite all to join us in the celebrations. With a whole year of events, including special lectures, exhibitions, a book festival and more, there are lots of opportunities to get involved and connect with others.

Professor Helen BondHead of the School of Divinity

New College originally opened its doors in 1846 as a college of the Free Church of Scotland, later of the United Free Church of Scotland, and from the 1930s has been the home of the School of Divinity (formerly the Faculty of Divinity) of the University.

New College 175: Programme of events