Category Archives: Unitarian-Universalism

Occupy Unitarian Universalism

The Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence has extended an invitation to members of their local Occupy movement to camp at their church.  The initial expected numbers are about 12-15 people in six tents.  Details about the regulations of the arrangement are available at Occupy Northampton’s website, as well as a report about the meeting between Unitarian Society representatives, Occupy participants, and the mayor of Northampton that produced the agreement, and a report of the discussion that subsequently occurred within the Occupy Northampton group.

Meanwhile, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has created open letters in support of the Occupy movement  which can be read and signed online, one for individuals and another for congregations and organizations.  The former has 4200+ signatures at this point, suggesting a widespread support for Occupy ideas within Unitarian Universalism.  UUA president Peter Morales visited Occupy Boston in October and participated in a UU vespers service at the site; subsequently he released a statement of sympathy and solidarity.  Later, the Board of Trustees of the UUA visited Occupy Boston as well.  Perhaps the best place to keep track of the ongoing interaction between Unitarian Universalism and Occupy is via the tracker set up by Peter Bowdon at his UU Growth Blog.  UUpdates, the UU blog aggregator, also helps one keep tabs on the online discussion (and is one of the only places you can find the few–but vocal–conservative UU voices opposing Occupy).

Unitarian Universalism’s alignment with progressive political/social causes is well known.  Perhaps the most direct precedent for the actions of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence is the participation many UU churches had in the Sanctuary movement in the 1980s, or perhaps the shelter provided to draft resisters during the Vietnam War era (if one wants to go back much further, shelter and aid to fugitive slaves by Unitarian and Universalist churches might apply as another example of offering church space for people to sleep at).

In 1841, Rev. William Ellery Channing, founding father of American Unitarianism, wrote a letter to miners in England, detailing his mid-19th century prescription for the elevation of the laboring classes:

1. Temperance: “Ardent spirits have been the curse of the laborer.”
2. Renunciation of violence in the cause of class warfare: “Your true strength lies in growing intelligence, uprightness, self-respect, trust in God, and trust in one another.”
3. Avoidance of atheism: “It is under the cross that the battle of humanity is to be fought.”
4. National education: “To make [the laborer] enlightened and efficient, at once able and disposed to discharge wisely his public and private duties.”
5. Focus on inward satisfaction: “Good wages are not happiness.  A man may prosper and still be a poor creature. . . Our very thoughts may be the means or occasion of signal virtues, and in this way may bring a peace and hope which no mere prosperity can give.”

From this we can see both that Unitarianism has had a long-standing interest in the plight of workers, and that it has often been approached from the perspectives of the middle and upper classes.  Paternalism and concerns for propriety have often been mingled, therefore, with genuine sympathy and actual assistance.  This pattern has by no means passed away today, though in the contemporary context the gulf has grown so great between gigantic corporations unimaginable in Channing’s time and everyday workers (including so-called white collar workers in many cases) that class lines must be drawn differently than in his day.  The situation of the Universalists, who generally occupied a notably lower class standing than the Unitarians is somewhat more complicated.  Readers interested in UU class history can get a good start with Mark Harris’s Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalist History.


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A Survey of Non-UUA-Affiliated Unitarian Universalists

Tandi Rogers, the Growth Strategy Specialist of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, is reaching out to UUs beyond the walls of UUA-affiliated churches.  This means people who identify as Unitarian Universalists, but don’t attend churches that are part of the UUA (what she calls “Free-Range UUs).  It is well known that perhaps the majority of UUs in North America are not actually members of UUA churches.  What isn’t as well known–beyond anecdote and supposition–is why that is, what the demographics of these free-rangers are, how they conduct their lives as “independent UUs,” and other related questions (Peter Bowden lists some of the reasons people don’t attend UU churches at his UU Growth Blog).  While the survey is not systematic (it casts a wide net hoping to snag willing participants, rather than methodically working with a representative sample size), it will be a good start toward better comprehension of the phenomenon of Unitarian Universalism beyond the congregations (hopefully Ms. Rogers will share her results when the project is completed).  If you are a UU who doesn’t belong to a church, please consider taking part in the short survey.  And if you know anyone who might fit the profile of a free-range UU, please pass the survey on to them.  The site link is:

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Dr. Emily Mace Hired as New Director of Harvard Square Library

Harvard Square Library, a project of First Parish in Cambridge (Mass.), has hired Dr. Emily Mace as their new director.  Dr. Mace is a great fit for the site: she was trained in liberal religious history at Princeton University, and she teaches on Unitarian Universalist topics for Starr King School for the Ministry.  For those unfamiliar with Harvard Square Library, it’s a website that includes biographies of important Unitarians and Universalists, as well as some documents by/about these figures (including entire books!).  Not surprisingly, it tends to have a particular focus on Cambridge and the Boston area (hardly inappropriate for UU history).


Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

Strolling Through Boston’s Unitarian-Universalist History

HUUMS (Harvard Divinity School Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students) sent out a notice recently to draw attention to its historic UU walking tours.  UU seminarians are available to lead two hour walking tours in the Holy Land (aka Boston and its environs), which can include Divinity Chapel where Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his famed Divinity School Address on July 15, 1838.  Check out their website for more information.

The Unitarian Universalist Association also provides a walking tour pamphlet,created by Christine Jaronski, if you prefer to do it yourself.  It doesn’t include Divinity Chapel (since it sticks to sites right around UUA headquarters), but has many interesting sites.  Perhaps readers will want to suggest other nearby sites that walkers can appreciate.

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Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

Coming Soon: An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions

Mark Harris, former president of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society and author of many books on Unitarian-Universalist subjects, has a new co-written (with Andrea Greenwood) volume coming out next month from Cambridge University Press.  An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions is the latest offering in the long-running Introduction to Religion series.  While details will have to wait until the book is released, it is clear that Greenwood and Harris situation Unitarian-Universalism as a global religion, with the United States just one (important) site for the religion’s development.  Here is the table of contents:

1. Liberal religion and the foundations of the Unitarian and Universalist faiths
2. The European background
3. Great Britain
4. Early America
5. Unitarians and Universalists in the Republic
6. A religion for one world
7. Polity
8. Theology
9. Worship
10. Science and ecology
11. Architecture, music and the arts
12. Education, welfare and human rights
13. Unitarian Universalism in the 21st century.

Harris has produced many fine books worth checking out, most recently the slim but important Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalist History.  He also wrote the massive reference volume Historical Dictionary of Unitarian Universalism (hint: available far cheaper in the paperback version with the title The A to Z of Unitarian Universalism).

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Filed under Book Notes, Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism, Unitarianism, Universalism

More Details on the UU Scholars and Friends Session at the AAR

Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends Discussion

Saturday, November 19, 6:30-9:00 pm

Continental Ballroom 2, Hilton Union Square

Theme:  “Celebrating Embodied and Transformative Worship and Ritual”:

“Our annual conversation will explore ritual practices that build multi-religious, justice-loving beloved communities. Unitarian Universalists have long struggled to transcend both the cultural and class privileges of our forebears and our inherited skepticism about ritual and the body. In this event we will celebrate the new possibilities that open up when we join these two struggles together. A diverse group of panelists will share both specific case studies and general principles drawn from the fields of theology and ritual studies.  Our emphasis will be on what is now working well within and beyond Unitarian Universalist communities, as well as on ritual strategies for turning failures into opportunities for growth. Panelists include Dorsey Blake, Clyde Grubbs, Emily Mace, and Robert McCauley. Myriam Renaud will moderate and Nancy Palmer Jones will respond. Sponsored by Starr King School for the Ministry, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Harvard Divinity School, Beacon Press, and UUA Panel on Theological Education.”

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Filed under Liberal Religion at the American Academy of Religion, Unitarian-Universalism

Schedule for Collegium 2011

Collegium is the annual conference for Unitarian-Universalist scholars, be they undergraduates or senior professors.  This year the gathering will be in Los Gates, CA, timed to be advantageous to scholars attending the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Francisco.  For more information and to download the conference registration form, visit  Here is the current schedule for Collegium 2011:


Presentation Retreat and Conference Center

Los Gatos, California

Wednesday, November 16- Saturday, November 19

Wednesday, November 16

2:00     Registration

4:30     Social Hour: Special Welcome to UU Doctoral Students and Seminarians

6:00     Dinner

7:30     Ingathering: Welcome & Introductions

8:00     Distinguished Guest Gabriella Lettini: “Community Truth Commissions as Spiritual Discipline and Lived Theology”

 Thursday, November 17

8:00     Breakfast

8:45     Devotions

 9:00     Session I: Unitarianism

Megan Joiner: “Fresh Thoughts on Public Theology: The Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Unitarian Women”

Sheri Prud’homme:  “Apocalypse of the Mind or Creative Middle Ground: God, Nature and Humankind In Emerson’s Nature”

Lydia Willsky: “William Ellery Channing, Frederick Henry Hedge and the Dilemma of the Embodied Woman”

10:45   Break

11:00   Session II: Universalism

Bob Lane: “The Restorationist Controversy and the Challenge of Punishment”

Avery Guest: “The Decline of the Universalism in New York State”

12:00   Lunch

1:30     Distinguished Guest Gabriella Lettini: “Moral Injury as a Hidden    Wound of War and the Need for Soul Repair Communities”

3:00     Break

3:15     Session III: Religious History as Narrative

Arliss Ungar: The Life and Times of Francis Cutting (1834 – 1913): Unitarian Lay Leader,

Businessman, Benefactor

Helene Knox: “Chronology of the Radical Reformation in Transylvania”

Richard Kellaway: “Rev. John White, The Founder of New England; Launching the Journey Towards Unitarianism”

5:00     Social Hour

6:00     Dinner

7:30     Annual Collegium Business Meeting

 Friday, November 18

8:00     Breakfast

8:45     Devotions

9:00     Session IV: 21st Century Liberal Theology

Allison Downie: “Turning Inside Out: Toward an Ecofeminist Spirituality of Openness”

Patrice Curtis: “Taking Testimony, Giving Testimony”

Myriam Renaud: “The Evolution of the Symbol-Concept, God, in Gordon Kaufman’s Theology”

10:45   Break

11:00   Session VI: A New Unitarian Universalist Primary Source Collection: A Brainstorming Session led by Dan McKanan

12:00   Lunch

1:30     Session V: Panel: UU Epistemologies: How Unitarian Universalists Know What They Know

3:30     Memorial

5:00     Social Hour

6:00     Dinner

7:00     A Reading of Poetry Inspired by UU forebears with Helene Knox

8:00     Ingathering: Reflections and Conclusions

 Saturday, November 19

8:00     Breakfast, Farewells, & Departure

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Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism