New College on The Mound
New College Quad

New College is a historic building at the University of Edinburgh which houses the university's School of Divinity. It is one of the largest and most renowned centres for studies in Theology and Religious Studies in the United Kingdom. Students in M.A., M.Th. and Ph.D. degree programmes come from over 30 countries,[1] and are taught by almost 40 full-time members of the academic staff.[2] New College is situated on The Mound in the north of Edinburgh's Old Town.

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 since 1935 has been the home of the School of Divinity (formerly the Faculty of Divinity) of the University of Edinburgh.[3] As "New College" it continues the historic commitment to offer a programme of academic preparation for ministry in the Church of Scotland, also made use of by ministerial candidates from other churches. In the 1970s the Faculty of Divinity also began offering undergraduate degrees in Theology and Religious Studies, and students in these programmes now make up the majority of the nearly 300 undergraduates enrolled in any given year.[4]


The founding of New College came as a result of a religious conflict that emerged from the Disruption of 1843 in which clergy and laity left the established Church of Scotland to establish the Free Church of Scotland – free from state connections and submitting only to the authority of Christ. New College was established as an institution for the Free Church of Scotland to educate future ministers and the Scottish leadership, who would in turn guide the moral and religious lives of the Scottish people. New College opened its doors to 168 students in November 1843 and, under the guidance of its first principal Thomas Chalmers, oversaw the construction of the current building.[4] A competition for design of the Free High Church and Free Church College was held in 1844 and, though not one of the winners, the design by William Henry Playfair was chosen and built 1845–1850.[5] At the formation of the United Free Church, the United Free Church was granted the buildings, and the continuing Free Church operated from new premises in 1907.[6] This Free Church College was renamed Edinburgh Theological Seminary in 2014.

Prior to the 1929 reunion of the Church of Scotland, candidates for the ministry in the United Free Church studied at New College, whilst candidates for the old Church of Scotland studied in the Divinity Faculty of the University of Edinburgh. During the 1930s the two institutions came together, sharing the New College site on The Mound. "New College" can designate the site itself, or the legal entity that continues to function in an official relationship with the Church of Scotland, the Principal of New College appointed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and responsible particularly for Church of Scotland candidates for ministry.

The current principal is the Reverend Professor Susan Hardman Moore. As the "School of Divinity," however, it is a unit in the University of Edinburgh with a much wider remit, and is led by the Head of the School of Divinity (currently Professor Helen Bond), who is appointed by the university, and who oversees the larger academic and financial operation. The Chair of Divinity at the School of Divinity is the oldest one at the University of Edinburgh, which can be dated back in 1620. Professor Rachel Muers took up the chair in August 2022 as the first woman who holds the post.[7] Over the years, a number of notable figures have been among its academic staff, including Robert Rainy, Thomas Chalmers, Hugh Ross Mackintosh, James Barr, Thomas F. Torrance, James S. Stewart, John Baillie, John McIntyre, Ruth Page, Norman Porteous, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Andrew F. Walls, David Fergusson and others.[8]

Statue of John Knox in the New College quadrangle


Members of academic staff are all employees of the University of Edinburgh, and are today an international body of scholars of various persuasions in religious matters.

Academic Ratings

New College is rated among the best schools of theology, philosophical theology, and religious studies in the UK, according to the most recent national Research Excellence Framework.[9]


The School of Divinity offers six different undergraduate (Honours) degrees. The MA Theology allows students to focus on traditional areas of Christian studies (Biblical Studies, Ecclesiastical History, Christian Ethics, and Systematic Theology). The MA Religious Studies introduces students to the methods of the study of religion and a variety of religious traditions such as indigenous religions, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The Bachelor of Divinity prepares candidates for the ministry (and is open to other interested students also). The MA Religious Studies and English/Scottish Literature, the MA Philosophy and Theology, and the MA Divinity and Classics allow students to work cross-disciplinary.[10]

View from Princes Street Gardens


The School also offers several M.Th., M.Sc. and M.Res. degree programmes[11] (Biblical Studies, Science and Religion, Theology in History, Theology and Ethics, World Christianity, Islam & Christian–Muslim Relations, and Religious Studies), and is an internationally known centre for PhD studies in a broad spectrum of specialities. There is no confessional test for staff or students. Only a portion of the undergraduate students are ministerial candidates, and the majority enter a variety of careers after studies (e.g. teachers, libraries, TV/radio production, civil service, further professional studies in law, finance, social work, etc.).

Research Centres

New College is home to several research centres: the Centre for the Study of World Christianity (established by Andrew F. Walls, which has its own collection of archival material on the history of Christian missions); the Centre for Theology and Public Issues; and the centre for the Study of Christian Origins.[12]


New College is located in the city centre on Mound Place, overlooking Princes Street Gardens, the Scottish National Gallery, and Princes Street. The neo-gothic building was designed by the respected 19th century architect William Henry Playfair.


New College Library
New College Library

The New College library was founded in 1843 as the Library of the Free Church College. It is the largest single-site theological library in the United Kingdom, holding a large collection of manuscripts, including the papers of Thomas Chalmers, John Baillie, J. H. Oldham and James S. Stewart.[13][14]

The library is situated in the eastern wing of New College, and its splendid reading hall was originally built as the sanctuary of the Free High Kirk.

Rainy Hall

Rainy Hall is a gothic revival dining hall, adorned with heraldry and featuring a hammerbeam roof. It is at the centre of college life, used by students and faculty for conversation and meals.[15]

General Assembly Hall

The 1910 World Missionary Conference held in the General Assembly Hall

As well as the teaching facilities and the library, the New College complex also includes the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, which, however, remains the property of the Church, and is where annual meetings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are held.[16] This hall was used during the famous Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference and was the temporary home for the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament from its establishment in 1999 until the completion of the new Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood in 2004.[17]


Principals of New College

Name Years Served Academic Field Denomination
Thomas Chalmers 1846-1847 Theology Free Church of Scotland
William Cunningham 1847-1861 Church History, Theology Free Church of Scotland
Robert Smith Candlish 1862-1873 Theology Free Church of Scotland
Robert Rainy 1874-1906 Church History United Free Church of Scotland
Marcus Dods 1907-1909 New Testament United Free Church of Scotland
Alexander Whyte 1909-1918 New Testament United Free Church of Scotland
Alexander Martin 1918-1935 Apologetics Church of Scotland
William Alexander Curtis 1935-1946 Theology Church of Scotland
Hugh Watt 1946-1950 Church History Church of Scotland
John Baillie 1950-1956 Theology Church of Scotland
J. H. S. Burleigh 1956-1964 Church History Church of Scotland
Norman Porteous 1964-1968 Old Testament Church of Scotland
John McIntyre 1968-1974 Theology Church of Scotland
D. W. D. (Bill) Shaw 1974-1978 Theology Church of Scotland
Andrew Ross 1978-1984 Church History Church of Scotland
Alexander Campbell Cheyne 1984-1986 Church History Church of Scotland
Duncan B. Forrester 1986-1996 Christian Ethics and Practical Theology Church of Scotland
Ruth Page 1996-2000 Theology Church of Scotland
A. Graeme Auld 2000-2008 Old Testament Church of Scotland
David Fergusson 2008-2018 Theology Church of Scotland
Susan Hardman Moore 2018-2022 Church History Church of Scotland
Alison Jack 2022-now Bible and Literature Church of Scotland

Notable faculty

Notable Former Faculty (20th and 21st Century)
Notable Former Faculty (19th Century)


Coat of arms of New College, Edinburgh
Granted by Lyon Morrow on 8 September 2021.[18]
The two towers of New College Edinburgh Proper
Argent a saltire per fess Purpure and Azure surmounted of a book expanded Or in chief a burning bush enflamed Proper in base situated on a rock Proper a triple-towered castle embattled Sable masoned Argent and topped with three flags Gules windows and portcullis shut of the last.
Two human figures representing diversity one dressed in the academic gown and hood of a Master of Divinity and one dressed in the academic gown and hood of a Master of Arts (Religious Studies) both from the University of Edinburgh all Proper.
Quaerite Et Invenietis


  1. ^ "School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Academic Staff". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  3. ^ "Faculty of Divinity". University of Edinburgh - Our History. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  4. ^ a b Brown, Stewart J. (1996). "The Disruption and the Dream: The Making of New College 1843–1861". In Wright, David F.; Badcock, Gary D. (eds.). Disruption to Diversity: Edinburgh Divinity 1846-1996. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. pp. 29–50. ISBN 978-0567085177.
  5. ^ Goold, David (1 September 2022). "Free High Church and Free Church College". Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  6. ^ "Bachelor of Theology". Edinburgh Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on 15 December 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  7. ^ "Professor Rachel Muers is appointed as the new Chair of Divinity". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  8. ^ Shaw, Bill (1996). "Dual Identity: Church College and University Faculty". In Wright, David F.; Badcock, Gary D. (eds.). Disruption to Diversity: Edinburgh Divinity 1846-1996. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. pp. 169–185. ISBN 978-0567085177.
  9. ^ "Teaching & research excellence". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  10. ^ "Degree Programmes". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  11. ^ "Taught programs". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  12. ^ "Research centres". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  13. ^ Howard, John (1996). "New College Library". In Wright, David F.; Badcock, Gary D. (eds.). Disruption to Diversity: Edinburgh Divinity 1846-1996. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. pp. 187–201. ISBN 978-0567085177.
  14. ^ "New College Library". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  15. ^ "Rainy Hall". Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  16. ^ "The General Assembly: a guide to what goes on". Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  17. ^ Jones, Clyve, ed. (2009). A Short History of Parliament: England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scotland. Suffolk: The Boydell Press. p. 359. ISBN 978-1843835035.
  18. ^ "Arms for New College". Lyon Court. Retrieved 22 September 2021.

Further reading

55°56′59″N 3°11′43″W / 55.9498°N 3.1952°W / 55.9498; -3.1952