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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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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Servetus’ 500th Birthday Celebration at Harvard University

Here’s another event coming up.  Thanks to Dan McKanan for sending out the announcements:

Tuesday, September 27, 7-9:30pm: There will be a dramatic representation of the life of Michael Servetus (Miguel Serveto) and a panel discussion featuring Dan MaKanan, Lilia Cuervo, and Ron Cordes.  Long Strange Trip: 2000 Years of UU History, Part 1 (a film by Cordes) will also be screened, and there will be refreshments.  Servetus, physician and theologian, is remembered as a unitarian who was martyred by Calvin’s forces.

Andover Chapel, Harvard Divinity School, 45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA
Contact: Linda Simmons,, 603-498-9520

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The Living Legacy of C. Conrad Wright

Here’s an announcement that went out today, should be an interesting event:

The Living Legacy of C. Conrad Wright
A Memorial Forum
Wednesday, October 26, 7:00 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School
Cosponsored by Harvard Divinity School & the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society

For the second half of the twentieth century, Professor Conrad Wright was the preeminent scholar of American Unitarianism and an inspiring mentor to both ministers and historians. Please join us as we reflect on his life’s work and on the ways his insights and vision can continue to guide academic and religious life in the twenty-first century. Panelists include G. Kim Beach, Elz Curtiss, Dean Grodzins, Gloria Korsman, and David Robinson.

The panel will conclude with an open discussion and with a reception.  This event is free and open to the public.

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Liberal Religious Presentations at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion

This year that annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion will be held in San Francisco.  Some associated session begin Friday, November 18; the meeting officially runs Saturday to Tuesday, November 19-22.  Here is a list of sessions being offered that deal with liberal religious subjects.  As usual, the Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends will host a panel session and a separate reception.  Note: in some cases, only one presentation (i.e. the one dealing with liberal religion) has been listed, out of a session with multiple presentations.


North American Paul Tillich Society
Tillich and Culture

Friday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Room: HI-Mason

Mary Ann Stenger, University of Louisville
Tillich’s Theology of Culture in Relation to the American Religious-Secular Dialectic

Rose Caraway, University of Florida
A New Human Being: The Religious Dimensions of Secularism in Cuban and Soviet Moralities

Bert Daelemans, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven
The Breakthrough of the Spirit in Contemporary Church Architecture


North American Paul Tillich Society
Courage and Symbol in Tillich

Friday – 1:00 pm-3:30 pm
Room: HI-Mason

Derek Nelson, Thiel College
Absolutely Relative: Teaching Dynamics of Faith, on teaching Dynamics of Faith

Verna Marina Ehret, Mercyhurst College
Doubt, Courage, and the Transformation of Redemption Within Globalization

Ryan O’Leary, University of Iowa
Gaia as Symbol


North American Paul Tillich Society
International and Interreligious Approaches of Tillich

Friday – 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
Room: HI-Mason

Theo Junker, Université de Strasbourg
Paul Tillich’s Mature Politics: Unconfined Realism and Vigilant Hope. Examples from his Enduring Legacy of Political Affirmations and Refutations

Anne Marie Reijnen, Faculté Universitaire de Théologie Protestante de Bruxelles
Das Neue Denken in Franz Rosenzweig and Paul Tillich. The “Star of Redemption” as a Jewish-Christian Theology of Correlation

Lon Weaver, Glen Avon Presbyterian Church


Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group

Saturday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Room: CC-3018

Sharon Peebles Burch, Interfaith Counseling Center, Presiding

Theme: Ultimate Concern After the Post-Secular Age

John Robichaux, Harvard University
The Religiosity of the Secular and the Secularity of the Religious: Tillich, Murray, and Rawls


Daniel Miller, Mount Allison University
Ultimate Concern and Postmodern Theology: Two Competing Legacies


Adam Pryor, Graduate Theological Union
God as Still Living: An Analysis of Paul Tillich’s Concept of the Divine Life in Light of Mark Taylor’s Infinitization of the Finite


Niebuhr Society
Reinhold Niebuhr and the Economic Order

Saturday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Room: MM-Club Room

John D. Carlson, Arizona State University, Presiding

Christopher Evans, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School
Ties That Bind: The Christian Economics of Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr

Thomas Ogletree, Yale University
Facilitating Human Freedoms and Constraining Persistent Abuses: Reinhold Niebuhr’s Quest for Balance in the Public Oversight of Market Economies

Scott Paeth, DePaul University
The Great Recession: Some Niebuhrian Reflections


Reform in Islamic Thought: Challenges and Prospects
Saturday – 11:00 am-1:00 pm
Room: HI-Continental Ballroom 9


North American Paul Tillich Society
Philosophical and Mystical Aspects of Tillich’s Thought

Saturday – 1:00 pm-3:30 pm
Room: HI-Golden Gate 1

Rob James and Durwood Foster
Tillich’s ‘Killer Mistake’ regarding His ‘One Unsymbolic Statement’? It Never Happened

Jari Ristiniemi
Differential Thinking and the Possibility of Faith-Knowledge; Tillicj and Kierkegaard Between Negative and Positive Philosophy

Stephen Butler Murray
The Beauty of a Union with God through Dangerous Obedience: A Christian Mysticism of Social Activism


North American Religions Section

Saturday – 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
Room: CC-2006

Jeff Wilson, University of Waterloo, Presiding

Theme: Rethinking Key Paradigms in American Religion: “Black Church,” “Queering Religion,” “Nature Religion,” and “Material Culture”

Bron Taylor, University of Florida
Gaian Earth Religion: Vanishing Divine Being(s) and the Mod-God of Nature


Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group

Saturday – 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
Room: CC-3020

Russell Re Manning, University of Cambridge, Presiding

Theme: Faith, Betrayal, and Disenchantment: Paul Tillich in Dialogue with Contemporary Philosophy and Theology

Hollis Phelps, Mount Olive College
Evental Fidelity, Ultimate Concern, and the Subject: Reading Alain Badiou with Paul Tillich


Thomas A. James, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Can There be a Theology of Disenchantment?: Unbinding the Nihil in Tillich


Blake Huggins, Boston University
Tillich and Ontotheology: On the Fidelity of Betrayal


Carl-Eric Gentes, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago
The Courage to Be(tray): An Emerging Conversation between Paul Tillich and Peter Rollins


Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends Discussion
Celebrating Embodied and Transformative Worship and Ritual

Saturday – 6:30 pm-9:00 pm
Room: HI-Continental Ballroom 2

Myriam Renaud, University of Chicago, Presiding

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.

Dorsey Blake, Starr King School for the Ministry
Clyde Grubbs, Throop Unitarian Universalist Church
Emily Mace, Brevard College
Robert McCauley, Emory University

Nancy Palmer Jones, First Unitarian Church of San José


Queer Studies in Religion Consultation and Religion and Cities Consultation

Sunday – 1:00 pm-2:30 pm
Room: CC-2005

L. Benjamin Rolsky, Drew University, Presiding

Theme: Queer Practices in San Francisco

Jeff Wilson, University of Waterloo
“All Beings are Equally Embraced by Amida Buddha”: Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and Same-Sex Marriage in North America


Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group

Sunday – 1:00 pm-2:30 pm
Room: CC-3000

K. Healan Gaston, Harvard University, Presiding

Theme: Tillich and Niebuhr: Conversations and Legacies


Ronald Stone, University of Pittsburgh
Andrew Finstuen, Pacific Lutheran University


Jonathan Rothchild, Loyola Marymount University
Kevin Carnahan, Central Methodist University


Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends Reception

Sunday – 7:00 pm-8:30 pm
Room: HI-Lombard

Persons connected to the Unitarian Universalist tradition are invited to gather for conversation and to plan next year’s events.


Study of Judaism Section

Monday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Room: MM-Yerba Buena 10

Sarah Imhoff, Indiana University, Presiding

Theme: American Judaisms

Robert Erlewine, Illinois Wesleyan University
From Exclusivity to Partnership: Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Legacy of Liberal Judaism


Liberal Theologies Consultation

Monday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Room: IC-Sutter

Ellen Umansky, Fairfield University, Presiding

Theme: Post-Post-Liberalism: Constructive Proposals for Revitalizing Liberal Theologies and Liberal Institutions

Michael Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Pragmatic Liberalationist Public Theology


Shelli Poe, University of Virginia
Friedrich Schleiermacher and the United Church of Christ: Reformed, Liberal, Public


William Myatt, Loyola University, Chicago
The (Non)existence of Religious Rationality: David Tracy, “The Fragment”, and Liberal Theological Discourse


Joshua Daniel, University of Chicago
Posture and Discourse: The Perfectionism of Liberalism in H. Richard Niebuhr


Inese Radzins, Pacific School of Religion


Contemporary Islam Group and Liberal Theologies Consultation

Monday – 1:00 pm-3:30 pm
Room: IC-Sutter

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Reed College, Presiding

Theme: Pious Publics/Critical Publics: Theologies of Self and State in Contemporary Islam

Muhamad Ali, University of California, Riverside
“One and Many”: Islam and Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Indonesia


Jon Armajani, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University
Mohammed Arkoun on Classic Islamic Reason and Applied Islamology: Analysis and Critique


Syed Rizwan Zamir, University of Virginia
Preaching Religious Reform and Reforming Religious Preaching: A Contemporary Shi’ite ‘A’lim’s Appropriation of the Karbala Paradigm


Kathleen Foody, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Just Rulers and Critical Publics: Religious Leadership and Dissent in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Samaneh Oladi Ghadikolaei, University of California, Santa Barbara
Islamic Activism in Iran


Zayn Kassam, Pomona College


Religion and Disability Studies Group

Monday – 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
Room: CC-2014

Darla Schumm, Hollins University, Presiding

Theme: Metaphor, Language, and Corporeality

Devva Kasnitz, Society for Disability Studies
Copresenting with Naomi Steinberg


Naomi Steinberg, Humboldt State University
Inattentive Metaphors: Language and Thought on Disability in Progressive Judaism

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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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19th Century Hymn Tinkering

It is often noted how eagerly and often contemporary Unitarian-Universalists alter hymns.  Usually this is done to remove some aspect of the received hymn that is deemed objectionable; sometimes a more acceptable replacement is inserted, while at other times the offending words, phrases, or concepts are simply excised.  Common targets include male-gendered language, God, and the supremacy of the Christian religion.  At other times, the alteration is made for aesthetic, rather than ideological reasons.

Garrison Keillor of NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion” created a controversy when he–somewhat sourly–observed in  December 2009:

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough.

Keillor attributed this religious buccaneering to the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who served as a Unitarian minister for a few years, retiring in 1832) and to cultural elites in general.  Emerson is not remembered as a particularly flagrant hymn-tinkerer; indeed, he was himself a hymnist, whose hymns have imparted phrases preserved today in the common culture, such as “the shot heard round the world.”  That one is from his 1836 “Concord Hymn,” which was set to an older tune, a common practice in Emerson’s day and one that continues among Unitarian-Universalists and many others today.

Emerson was by no means the originator of liberal religious hymn-altering.  Nor was it simply a practice of cultural elites.  Consider for example the Universalist Hymn-Book published by Hosea Ballou and Edward Turner in 1821, when the 18-year-old Emerson was still years away from enrolling at Harvard Divinity School.  Ballou and Turner were the greatest Universalist ministers of their generation, but they could hardly be ranked among the true elites of New England.  Neither had attended college, and the largely self-educated Ballou was the son of desperately poor farmers, a not uncommon demographic for Universalists.  Unitarians typically looked down on Univeralists as poor, uneducated bumpkins–Ballou not excepted–and these class divisions were a major factor in keeping the liberal Unitarians and Universalists from cooperating more closely.

Non-elites from the pre-Emersonian era, Ballou and Turner were nonetheless staunch liberal Christians.  Whenever it suited them, they altered received hymns, often for the purpose of making them match the doctrines preached in Universalist churches.  Critiquing earlier Universalist use of partialist hymns, they noted:

The sentiments, that the Deity required an expiring victim, by way of satisfaction to his judgment; that the death of Christ operated to cancel the debt which the sinner owed; and that God died upon the cross and rose from the dead; these, though undoubtedly believed with sincerity by those who composed the hymns in which they are found, are considered as unsupported by revelation, and unapproved by reason; and they are not GENERALLY believed in our societies.

Hymns with such sentiments were excluded altogether, or modified to suit the whims of the editors.  Such liberties should hardly be shocking: the English hymnody tradition as we are familiar with it (starting with Isaac Watts) was little over a hundred years old, and thus had yet to go through the fossilization process of nostalgia and conservative traditionalism.  Watts was a target of Ballou and Turner’s reform, for instance.  His hymn “Let us adore the eternal word,” ended thusly:

Daily our mortal flesh decays,
But Christ our life shall come;
His unresisted power shall raise
Our bodies from the tomb.

But as altered by Ballou and Turner, it ends:

Daily our mortal flesh decays,
But Christ our life shall come;
And by his mighty power shall raise
And take his children home.

The line about the dead bodily coming forth from their tombs has been removed, replaced with a less supernaturalist line that relies on the characteristic Universalist familial imagery. Likewise, another Watts hymn declares:

‘Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move;
The devils know and tremble too,
But Satan cannot love.

But this is far too supernaturalist for Ballou and Turner, who did not believe in literal devils.  Their version of this hymn reads:

‘Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move;
Affliction’s bitter cup is sweet,
When mixed with heavenly love.

This is a truly Universalist sentiment, as Ballou so often emphasized in his preaching that God allowed misfortune to occur during life yet the experience of such was transformed by the constant knowledge of God’s ever-present love.

The takeaway from this is that religious liberals have been altering hymns for a very long time–indeed, one could claim that alteration is itself a form of traditional practice–and that it derives in no way from the proclivities of the top of society.  It is the liberal spirit itself, not class prerogatives, that drives such practices, and it has not been confined to the Unitarians or their descendants.

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