Suggestions for Universalism Syllabus for UU Seminarians

The UU Salon question this month is about Universalism.  As it so happens, your Transient and Permanent host will soon be teaching a course on Universalism for Starr King School of the Ministry, one of the two Unitarian-Universalist seminaries.  This is believed to be the only current academic course on Universalism on the planet, though it is difficult to verify that assumption (there are courses that include some material on Universalism, but apparently none with a specific Universalist focus). Even if–hopefully–there really are other courses on this subject being taught somewhere, it’s undeniable that this is a woefully neglected topic of historical and theological instruction and research.  Luckily, the SKSM course will be offered online, so students and interested parties anywhere in the world will be able to participate.

The syllabus is in the process of being formulated.  Do you have suggestions for material that you think ought to go on the list?  Howabout more contemporary Universalist materials?  No promises, but this is your opportunity to possibly help shape the religious instruction of future UU and other liberal ministerial leaders.



Filed under Liberal Religious History, Universalism

9 responses to “Suggestions for Universalism Syllabus for UU Seminarians

  1. YES!


    Universalist Call to Evangelism:
    Testimony as a Spiritual Practice
    Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill
    Prairie Group – Concluding Paper
    November, 2009

  2. How about Carlton Pearson’s “Gospel of Inclusion”? That way there’s Universalism from outside a UU context.

  3. I wonder how much the teaching on universalism is about the historical record? There are courses that teach where we were, but how much goes into teaching the proof of what universalism is today? If this U is only about what happened in the past, then it is no longer a living tradition and less relevant.

  4. NOT as a primary or academic source but for (future) ministers to familiarize themselves with as a resource for use in the congregation and as something to critique with that congregational function in mind – in light of what students have learned in the course – there is:

    Universalism 101: God is Love: An Introduction for Leaders of Unitarian Universalist Congregations.
    by Richard Trudeau (2009)
    ISBN: 1-4392-5143-6
    ISBN-13: 9781439251430

    It is quite short, having only 91 pages of text, 5 pages of notes, and a supplementary reading list of just 7 books and 3 articles.

  5. Dan

    Three books I was assigned in my seminary career by some excellent teachers that are worth considering in a course on Universalism:

    In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia, by Howard Dorgan, documents the development and current status of Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU), who probably originated when someone read Ballou’s Treatise. Dean Grodzins used this as a text in his brilliant course in UU history at Meadville Lombard to make students reflect on how the boundaries of denominations are set. If we share some theology with PBU, why are we so certain that we would never be able to merge with them? And it’s also interesting that PBU polity doesn’t seem all that alien to us. In fact, we’re probably closer to PBU than to Carleton Pearson. Which makes one think….

    George Huntston Williams’s American Universalism (4th ed.) has some brilliant moments. Williams’s breadth of learning, and the depth of his thinking, make up for his sometimes difficult writing style. Williams has some very interesting thoughts on Universalist ecclesiology. Besides, any graduate student with an interest in the Radical Reformation and its descendants (which means all UU seminary students) simply has to read something by Williams — Bill Murry made me read Williams’s The Radical Reformation, but American Universalism is much shorter, and you still get a taste of Williams’s erudition.

    I don’t remember who made me read Stephen Marini’s Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England, but it documents the origins of three denominations in central New England during the Revolutionary era: Shakers, Free Will Baptists, and Universalists. Again, this is a particularly useful book because it compares and contrasts Universalists with other denominations, thus setting some characteristic features of Universalism into better relief. Marini also punctures the John-Murray-as-heroic-founder myth. Plus, Marini is a good scholar, a good writer, and not an apologist for the faith.

    Beyond that, here are some more ideas:

    It’s hard to imagine teaching a course in Universalism without requiring students to have some exposure to Rusell Miller’s 2 volume The Larger Hope, still the definitive history of North American Universalism over its entire life. At the same time, Miller has been somewhat superseded by Ann Lee Bressler’s The Universalist Movement in America: 1770-1870, at least for the first century of Universalism. Bressler’s is a fine book, but it has the drawback of leaving the reader with the impression that Universalism was essentially dead after 1870. So maybe some exposure to both books. Problem is, that will be hard to do in an online class, due to copyright restrictions.

    But there’s always Charles Howe’s The Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism, which is a good, short introduction to Universalism in North America. Yes, one can argue with Howe’s viewpoints and biases, but he bases his book in large part on Miller. And it’s still in print, and cheap (relatively speaking).

    Ernest Cassarra’s Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith is still worth reading, and still in print. I go back to it again and again. It’s hard to imagine teaching a seminary class in Universalism, and not assigning this book.

    And Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement is in the public domain, so there is no excuse to not assign some readings in it.

    You write: “…it’s undeniable that this is a woefully neglected topic of historical and theological instruction and research.”

    Somewhat neglected, perhaps, but not woefully neglected by historical researchers, although it’s interesting that some of the most interesting studies were done by non-UUs (Marinin, Bressler, etc.). And there’s an interesting theological conversation on universal salvation that’s going on outside UU circles.

  6. Transient and Permanent

    Thanks everyone for your suggestions (especially Dan for taking all that time to write that out). Many of the suggestions y’all made were already on my list for consideration, and your enthusiasm reinforces my interest in drawing on them. A couple are totally new to me so maybe now they’ll get added. Again, thank you.

    LE: that paper isn’t available yet to the general public, so I haven’t seen it, but I’ll write the author and see if I can get a copy.

  7. A very good list of books above, let me add a couple-
    a debate book – it doesnt matter who was there or even if the other side published it – and in the PD field, two “Erasmus Manford” debate books are on Google Books – and therefore POD; and there are others.
    I rather liked “Here I am Again. Lord: Landon Cooley An Old Time Primitive Baptist Universalist Preacher”. (1997) Last i knew, just one shop still had these in stock though.
    Have a book by J. W. Hanson; and sermons – as slow going to modern audiences as they are.

  8. Pingback: Boy in the Bands - My Universalism in June post

  9. You’ve probably finalized your course, but I just remembered another great resource — Rev. Barbara Coeyman at Columbine UU Church has done extensive scholarly work on 19th century Universalist women ministers.

    (I’m at work on a research paper about universalism and the Reformation … if you have any tips for sources, I’d love to hear them.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s