Draft Sketch of Universalism Course

A commenter asked about the amount of historical material in the Universalism course for Starr King School for the Ministry, and it seems logical to provide the basic outline in case folks want to respond to today’s query about what material they would suggest for the syllabus.  So, here is the rough sketch of teaching units taken from the initial course proposal.  Some of these categories have mostly been determined, while others have room left for more material to be added.  The actual title of the course is “Universalism: History, Theology, Practice,” so all three will receive consideration:

Week 1: The Biblical and Early Christian Roots of Universalism
-material from Origen and other early Christian fathers, etc.

Week 2: Forerunners to denominational Universalism
-material from Charles Chauncey, de Benneville, Relly, etc.

Week 3: The founding of Universalism in North America
-material from John Murray, Winchester, Rush, etc.

Week 4: The maturation of Universalism
-material from Hosea Ballou, the Winchester and other professions, etc.

Week 5: Theological Controversies
-material on Ultra-Universalism vs. Restoration Universalism, fascination/rejection of Spiritualism

Week 6: Social Effects of Universalism
-material on abolition, women’s rights, temperance, welfare, science, utopianism, religious freedom, etc.

Week 7: Universalist Missions
-material on Quillen Shin, frontier Universalism, missions to Philippines, Japan, Canada, seminaries, African-American Universalism, etc.

Week 8: Giants of the New Century
-material from Clarence Skinner, the Humiliati, etc.

Week 9: Expanding the Circle
-material from Kenneth Patton, Universalist Humanism, Universalism as world religion, etc.

Week 10: Moving Toward Consolidation
-material on antecedents to the merger with the Unitarians, consolidation, after-effects, etc.

Week 11: Other Universalists
-material on Universalism in mainline Protestantism, Quakerism, Primitive Baptists, etc.

Week 12: The Dharma of Universalism
-material on Universalist attitudes in Mahayana Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Shinran, etc.

Week 13: Rise of Evangelical Universalism
-material from Carlton Pearson, new Universalists, etc.

Week 14: Continuing Presence of Universalism Within UUism
-material from contemporary Universalist services, Universalist influences on Principles, new publications, Cathedral of the World, etc.



Filed under Liberal Religious History, Universalism

2 responses to “Draft Sketch of Universalism Course

  1. Dan

    I hope Week 3 will include Caleb Rich, whose 1774 congregation is arguably the very first Universalist congregation in North America.

    The big throw-away week seems to me to be the week on Buddhism. Since Buddhism is less concerned with salvation than with ending suffering (a real distinction), I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Comparing certain forms of Pure Land Buddhism to 20th C. Universalism is like comparing baseball with golf and saying both use a ball, which a true but trivial statement. And why Buddhism, and not universalist tendencies in other world religions, e.g., the universalist tendencies of bhakti-style Hinduism?

    I might ignore the Buddhism stuff except that I don’t see much at all in the course on Universalist polity. Yet this is absolutely a key point for today’s Unitarian Universalists, who mostly believe that Conrad Wright’s interpretation of Unitarian polity is the only interpretation of Unitarian Universalist polity. A careful examination of Universalist state conventions and the general convention, ministerial credentialing, various professions of faith, and social declarations should be central to any examination of North American Universalism — especially given that some vestiges of this old system, e.g. the New York State Universalist Convention — still exist as separate corporate entities. Even more to the point, many aspects of current-day Unitarian Universalism can be seen to have Universalist origins: our unifying profession of faith, the “Principles and Purposes” (which even has a Liberty Clause, though it’s rarely quoted); the way we credential and recognize ministers; the unabashed self-identification as a denomination; etc. And all this is so important because these things have all been attacked (often by people from historically Unitarian congregations) on the grounds of a Unitarian understanding of polity. Universalist polity could be a semester-long course on its own; surely it deserves at least one week in this course.

    I guess it also seems unbalanced to me that Carleton Pearson and the evangelicals get a whole week, while the many other current strands of Universalism in the UUA get short shrift since they are all crammed together into one week. I mean, Carleton Pearson and company gets more time than Gordon McKeeman? more time than Rebecca Parker (who’s a small-u universalist as much as Pearson)? more time than the many remaining Universalist congregations which still carry on their unique Universalist identity and mission?

    Similarly, I’m mildly annoyed by all the time spent on universalism totally unconnected with the UUA. Sure, it’s great that when I talk with conservative mainline Protestants we both have some common ground because Karl Barth came down on the side of universal salvation. Barth is one thing, but why bother with Quakers like Gulley and Mulholland when you could read Parker and Brock on paradise? –or when you could read sermons by any number of UU ministers who have preached Universalism? It seems like the usual thing that we Unitarian Universalists do: we somehow don’t see the Universalists in our midst, except when they seem exotic, or when they don’t seem to offer a challenge to the dominant Unitarianism.

    Anyway, that’s my $.02 worth.

  2. Transient and Permanent

    Didn’t I mention Rich? If not, it’s not an oversight, just a factor of this being an outline, not a syllabus (the final product will be much richer and more detailed). Some of the other folks (Parker, etc) you mentioned are also in the same boat: they won’t be absent from the course, they just didn’t make it on the extremely brief sketch provided here, which is merely the skeleton of the future syllabus.

    If you knew about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, you’d understand why it’s included here (not intended to be read with a snarky tone: I mean it, if you knew about it in a detailed way–and most Americans haven’t even heard of it, even though it’s many times larger than Zen–you’d definitely get why it’s relevant). But more to the point, SKSM has gone in a real World Religions direction and tries to bring in a variety of non-UU students, as well as faculty members. A significant portion of the courses offered by the school are on utterly non-UU topics, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It seemed clear that a course on the history and polity of the Universalist General Convention would not be green-lit (and even if allowed, wouldn’t necessarily draw enough online students). Including a little taste of some, but not too much, non-UU material is a way to satisfy those pluralizing tendencies, and it helps to flesh out the course, which is not on Universalist denominationalism but on Universalism as a religious trend (one which is best but not solely represented in the Universalist General Convention/Universalist Church of America). It also helps to explore whether Universalism requires a Christian context or can arise or exist in other religious systems as well (i.e. it is used to launch a larger discussion), which is not only interesting (in my opinion) but also relevant to the post-Christian UUA.

    Many of the students won’t be UUs. They won’t sit through a unit on Universalist polity, sad to say. Worse yet, many UUs won’t either. I’m 100% on board with its importance but this particular course isn’t the place for it, and if student disgruntlement is high (such as polity matters can cause) then this offering will get yanked by the powers that be and the number of worldwide courses on Universalism will return to zero. Much as it galls me, I’d rather teach it imperfectly than slay it entirely out of perfectionism (a bitter choice for a perfectionist to make!). That said, polity probably won’t be entirely absent: I’d intended to include it as one of the practices we’ll explore (remember, this course is called “Universalism: History, Theology, Practice,” and I really meant it).

    I will admit to a fantasy in which the final student evaluations say: “We liked this course, but really wish it was just about the history and theology of the Universalist denomination specifically, about Universalist polity, and about all the different ways that Universalism contributes to contemporary Unitarian-Universalism.” That would give me carte blanche to retool for next time. But, I kinda think that fantasy will remain only in my head.

    Thanks for your suggestions, Dan, I appreciate them.

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