Author Archives: gerdes

“Death and Taxes: Humanism and the Limits of Charity”

“Death and Taxes, Part One: Humanism and the Limits of Charity”
“Death and Taxes, Part Two: Humanism, Death, and Cultural Production”

Anthony Pinn

By death and taxes I mean to point out two anecdotal certainties of life – human mortality and human need. More to the point, the “all I have to do is pay taxes and die” statement highlights an awkward recognition of two examples of human uncertainty, or human frailty. In some of my recent work, I’ve turned attention to an exploration of these two episodes of uncertainty. I bring my recent exploration to the Collegium by addressing the nature and meaning of this human uncertainty/frailty framed in terms of death and charity (as a response to human need). My goal is to explore how humanism might respond to these markers of human frailty, and in this way I want to give greater attention to the human in humanism. The first presentation uses Albert Camus and other thinkers to wrestle with the ultimate utility of charity. The second presentation extends my _The End of God-Talk_ by exploring death (in both existential and ontological terms) through Camus and hip hop culture. To get my conclusions, you’ll need to attend the sessions!

Anthony Pinn, our 2014 Distinguished Scholar, is Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Complex Subjectivity: Anthony Pinn’s Liberal Ir/religion

Roy Whitaker

Pinn argues that black religion at its core is a struggle for complex subjectivity. This paper argues that Pinn’s very corpus is an exercise in complexity subjectivity theory-making, or a Fanonian-Nietzschean’s Übermensch desire for self-overcoming and self-survival in a wretched, dehumanizing world. I have mind not only his Why Lord? Suffering and Evil in Black Theology (1999), By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism (2001), African American Humanist Principle (2004), “Black Bodies in Pain and Ecstasy: Terror, Subjectivity, and the Nature of Black Religion” (2003), but in particular his book on Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music (2003). Pinn uses Hip Hop not only to “keep it real,” but as a hermeneutical and heuristic category to “legitimize” and name an indigenous, complex-subjective space. Knowing the role that complex subjectivity plays helps scholars appreciate Pinn’s, as well as thinker such as Fanon’s and Nietzsche’s, methodological life-stance as phenomenological in nature. That is to say, the lived experience of the oppressed is prioritized and privileged and cannot be divorced from our theories of oppression. In the end, this paper finds that Pinn’s liberal ir/religion is premised on the notion of complex subjectivity.


Roy Whitaker is a Graduate student at Claremont Graduate University.

“Communities of Plural Love: a Comparative Ethnography of Independent Fundamentalist Mormons and Polyamorists”

Michelle Mueller

My dissertation seeks to undercut the polemic between Fundamentalist Mormons and polyamorists with ethnographic research of adults in both communities. Over a decade of friendship with polyamorists (people who practice consensual nonmonogamy), I have observed a clear bias separating polyamory from polygamy. The bias from polyamory presents polygamy as patriarchal and abusive, and polyamory as freedom-enhancing, egalitarian, and feminist. Polyamorists include Pagans, Unitarian Universalists, Unitarian Universalist-Pagans, Buddhists, Spiritual but not Religious, and seculars. My research methods include participant-observation, field notes, qualitative interviews, and ethnographic writing.

I offer to present a work-in-progress talk about the methodology for my dissertation, “Communities of Plural Love: a Comparative Ethnography of Independent Fundamentalist Mormons and Polyamorists.” In my dissertation, I wish to show, through ethnographic writing, examples that undercut this bias, including Pagan families that are polygynous, commonalities between polyamory and polygamy in conflict resolution and process, and feminist research on Fundamentalist Mormon sister-wives, all demonstrating that the contrast is not absolute. My research method is ethnography, relying on theories for analysis: Sigmund Freud’s Narcissism of Minor Differences, postcolonial feminism, and practice theory from Sherry Ortner and Pierre Bourdieu. I propose to present my current plans and challenges and seek suggestions for applying an even comparative approach towards polyamorists and Independent Fundamentalist Mormons.


Student Area Assistant for my department, I am a third-year Ph.D student of Cultural and Historical Students of Religions at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), a graduate of the Pacific School of Religion, a Unitarian Universalist Director of Religious Education of 5.5 years, and the Starr King-nominated GTU Newhall Teaching Fellow for 2013-14 and 2014-15. Pagan for 18 years, my research question derives from first-hand observation in personal life.

I plan to complete my comprehensive exams in September, including an exam on methodology. Accordingly, this project will be much further along by then; I will have feedback from my committee to share and work towards integrating as I progress in the dissertation.


A Work in Progress on How to Make More Explicit Connections Between Spirituality and Sexuality

Katia Moles

My research will address a significant UU theme, how to make more explicit connections between spirituality and sexuality. I examine OWL in the UU context as my main example of how to do this creative work, which provides an opportunity to ground UU’s sex-positive approach in theology (and to contrast this perspective with other religious views that regard sexuality with more suspicion). Questions I consider include: What does it mean to have a UU spiritual conception of sexual ethics, and what is distinctive about that spiritual sexual ethic? How does our experience as embodied, sexual beings contribute to an understanding of UU spirituality and vice versa?  What theological statements and discussions help us to view bodies as intrinsically good as opposed to shameful?  Since OWL is one of the distinguishing features of UU identity, by foregrounding theology in sexual education, UUs can help to solidify their identity and story, and feel like a part of an ongoing legacy. Part of this legacy includes exposing the Christian origins of a Western approach that has viewed sexuality with shame and suspicion. Thus, secular progressive perspectives on sexuality are not enough; we desperately need sex-positive, theological ones. I firmly believe UU is the most fertile soil for delineating this Christian history and articulating an alternative, spiritually-based sexual ethic. UUs can also be role models to other progressive religious communities, showing them how to better provide a spiritual identity connected to sexuality and embodiment, and to communicate an explicit set of religious values.

I also argue that there is not an explicit religious liberal framework that can be clearly articulated in the public square. I believe that UU principles can be valuable for framing these arguments. For instance, the UU principle which states that “all people need a voice,” could be used to include young people’s perspectives that have hitherto been ignored during public controversies. Grounded in empirical research and theology, the argument can be made that including their concerns and interests will make sexual education more relevant to their lives and therefore more effective. Those skeptical of religion can begin to understand that there is not just one faith-based, conservative perspective on sexuality. In fact, I argue that people are hungry for such alternative, theologically grounded interpretations. In a pluralistic society where more people claim a “spiritual but not religious,” identity, UU is perfectly situated to speak to this quickly growing audience in spiritual terms, especially because of its facility with multiple traditions.


Katia Moles is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in the area of Ethics and Social Theory with a research focus on sexual education in public schools and religious communities. I have designed and taught a number of related courses, including Sex Ed and the Seminary: Theory and Practice for Leaders in Spiritual Communities, and Reproductive Justice Discourses. This research project is supported by the Fund for Nurturing Unitarian Universalist Scholarship.


Eco-Alchemy: Rudolf Steiner’s Spiritual Science and the Ecology of Ecology

a “work in progress” proposal for Collegium 2014

Dan McKanan

Emerson Senior Lecturer

Harvard Divinity School

For nearly a century, the worldwide anthroposophical movement has been a catalyst for environmental activism. Acting sometimes as a mother and sometimes as a midwife, it has helped bring to life organic agriculture, community supported agriculture, environmental education, ecovillages, transition towns, and green banking. Yet the “spiritual science” of anthroposophy, initiated by Rudolf Steiner in early twentieth century Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, is unknown to most environmentalists and contains many elements that stretch conventional definitions of “ecology.” Rudolf Steiner was the first agricultural theorist to reject chemical fertilizers and pesticides on principle, but he was also a spiritual teacher who claimed clairvoyant powers and taught his disciples “how to know higher worlds.” Steiner was a scientist who preferred deeply engaged observation to double-blind experimentation, an evolutionist who taught that the spiritual evolution of humanity began eons before the material evolution described by Darwin, and a multifaceted reformer who had as much to say about education, architecture, international trade, and Christian liturgy as about farming and gardening. Among environmentalists who are aware of Steiner’s influence on the movement, many regard his ideas as too wide-ranging to grasp or too “unscientific” to take seriously. A few critics have even portrayed anthroposophy as a dangerous Trojan horse within environmentalism.

In my current book project, I offer a different view: anthroposophy occupies a distinct and essential niche within the broader “ecology of ecology.” It should not (and does not) claim sole responsibility for any aspect of environmentalism, yet virtually every part of the movement would be at least a little bit different without anthroposophy. In particular, ecology’s holistic impulse—the idea that every particular phenomenon exists within a vast web of relationships and can never be reduced to the sum of its parts—has been enriched by Steiner’s expansive holism. For Steiner, as for other ecologists, the health of a cabbage or a farm depends on biological interactions within soil and air—but for Steiner it also depends on the meditative practices of the farmer; on the educational, social, and economic structures surrounding the farm; on alchemical processes that continually recreate the elements of earth, air, fire, and water; and on the subtle influences of stars and planets. By calling attention to these diverse factors, anthroposophy has continually challenged other environmentalists to broaden their own holistic vision—and environmentalism will become ever richer as the anthroposophical contribution becomes better known.

In this “work in progress” presentation for my Collegium friends, I will reflect on research experiences from my 2013-2014 sabbatical, and attempt to explain why Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals should care about the esoteric environmentalism of Rudolf Steiner.


Dan McKanan holds the Emerson chair at Harvard Divinity School, where he has taught since 2008. He is the author of Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition and three other books on religion and social change in the United States. Currently he is researching the ways anthroposophy and other esoteric spiritualities can inspire work for economic cooperation and ecological harmony. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with his spouse Tammy and daughter Oriana, and is a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, Massachusetts.

“A New Collection of Primary Sources for Unitarian Universalist History”

Research Update for Collegium 2014

Dan McKanan

Emerson Senior Lecturer

Harvard Divinity School

At Collegium 2011 we held a brainstorming session on the possibility of creating a new collection of primary sources for Unitarian Universalist history. In the fifty years since consolidation, no one has attempted a comprehensive anthology for Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism, though there have been excellent collections on such topics as Transcendentalism and UU women’s history. Our goal is to produce a volume that will be used in every graduate course in UU history, purchased by every UU minister for a generation, and included in the libraries of at least half of our congregations. We anticipate that this volume will be about five hundred pages long and arranged chronologically, with brief scholarly introductions for each item.

This session will update Collegium members on the progress that we have made toward this goal, with the hope that at Collegium 2017 (or perhaps 2016!) we will hold a similar event celebrating the publication of the volume. Dozens of people have helped us brainstorm items for inclusion over the past three years. Our core editorial team of Dan McKanan, Barbara Coeyman, Mark Harris, Nicole Kirk, Emily Mace, Rosemary Bray McNatt, Peter Hughes, and Susan Ritchie has agreed on a list of more than 160 selections—though there is still time to point out glaring omissions! Currently, we are in the process of preparing introductions for each selection, and we may still need a few volunteers for this task. More generally, we will describe the process, invite feedback, and facilitate a general conversation about how this resource might be used to strengthen the teaching and learning of Unitarian Universalist history.


Dan McKanan holds the Emerson chair at Harvard Divinity School, where he has taught since 2008. He is the author of Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition and three other books on religion and social change in the United States. Currently he is researching the ways anthroposophy and other esoteric spiritualities can inspire work for economic cooperation and ecological harmony. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with his spouse Tammy and daughter Oriana, and is a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, Massachusetts.

UU Generation Shift in Historical Perspective: Can we learn from the Past?

(a paper I see as an initial draft of a history chapter for an on-going book project)

Rev. Dr. Linda Weaver Horton

We often hear that the pace of social change in our time is unique. Perhaps it is no longer true that if we do not know our past we are doomed to repeat it?

Since my Sabbatical in 2013 I have been studying generation shift in our congregations and beyond. I began from a sociological perspective, but my reading quickly led to a multi-disciplinary approach.

A primary resource for my Doctoral project on “Subjective Religious Experience among UUs by Generation and Gender” was Strauss and Howe’s Generations: the History of America’s Future.               They argue we can learn much from the past, and identify a pattern of 4-generation cycles. Unitarians and Universalists are named, especially in the cycle stage called “Idealist.” Franklin’s generation, the Transcendentalists, and those who were young adults in the Social Gospel era are portrayed as precursors to the current cycle’s Boom generation.

Harvey Cox, in The Future of Faith, claims we are in a distinctly new age. He suggests that history cannot give us much direction. Diana Butler Bass, in Christianity after Religion, sees our times as the “fourth Great Awakening,” and finds lessons to be learned from the past. These periods of “awakening” are roughly parallel to Strauss and Howe’s “Idealist” generations.

The second “Great Awakening” caused consternation among our Unitarian ancestors. Yet at each of these points in history, these ancestors were part of the cultural ferment. For this study, I look at three “Idealist” generations preceding the present “Boom” generation and their relationships with the “Civic” generations that followed them. Key members of Franklin’s generation mentored and inspired leaders of Jefferson’s generation. The Missionary generation that came of age in the early 1900s supported a Civic generation that had to deal with the challenges of a Depression and World War II. But Strauss and Howe see the Transcendental generation as different. There was no ”Civic” generation in the Civil War cycle- no alliance of idealism and pragmatism that created a sense of optimism and accomplishment, despite successfully ending slavery. They suggest this is, in part, the result of the Transcendental generation’s tendencies towards individualism rather than community and polarized, often inflexible values. This is not how we tend to see the Transcendentalists. Is there truth to this perspective? If so, how does it impact our understanding of our Tradition’s history and present challenges? We need the inspiration of our idealists – at the same time, we need to build and sustain community.

If two preceding Idealist generations formed a mentoring partnership with their “Civic” juniors to the benefit of both our Tradition and society at large, and one did not yet passed on a legacy of inspiration, what about the Boomers? We see evidence of individualism and polarized thinking. Could these historical patterns give us some guidance? Theodore Roszak, in The Making of an Elder Culture, is optimistic about Boomers’ ability to become elders who support community, mentor Millennials and contribute towards making our world a better place. Can we encourage and support this direction?


The Rev. Dr. Linda Weaver Horton completed degrees in History, Anthropology, Sociology and Divinity before completing a Doctor of Divinity degree with a specialization in Religion and Society. She has recently retired from settled parish ministry after 24 years (18 of them in Canada). She was a primary author of the UUA Commission on Appraisal’s report Engaging our Theological Diversity, and in 2011 edited the Canadian Unitarian & Universalist Historical Society’s book of essays and excerpts titled Guarding Sacred Embers.


Avery (Pete) Guest

This paper will study the careers of Unitarian and Universalist ministers who were born in New Hampshire in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It emphasizes two types of careers: professional and populist.

Professional careers are based on the assumption that ministers need to develop superior intellectual and personal skills that are typically learned by attendance at colleges and divinity schools. The assumption is that the minister must be an intellectual and social leader relative to his congregation — knowing more than they do about the nature of religious issues and being able to communicate advanced ideas about the relationships of individuals to God.

In contrast, the populist model holds that the minister is simply first among equals in the congregation. The primary goal of the minister is using the reference points and normal methods of communication among the parishioners to achieve an empathy that leads to trust and respect. The minister becomes more a conduit of the holy spirit than a leader to educate the congregation.

The nature of ministerial careers may be measured by whether the individual attended a college and/or divinity school. True populist ministers did neither, generally depending on personal apprenticeships with already established ministers or by life experiences such as gradually becoming an expert in speaking to audiences about religious issues. In the contemporary 21st Century, most ministers have “professional” training. In the past, however, many denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists relied heavily on populist ministers.

The data for the paper are drawn from Rev. Nathan F. Carter’s encyclopedia of the life histories of over 2,500 ministers (New Hampshire-born) from all denominations, published in 1906. Carter reports that he spent over 30 years in an obsessive effort to collect the material. The individual histories typically report vital information about the minister, the names of his parents, educational histories, and records of career settlement (with dates). For my purposes, I will focus on the approximately 110 ministers who identified with the Universalists and the 80 ministers who considered themselves Unitarians. All the individuals were practicing ministers at some point in the 19th Century, although some careers involved the previous and subsequent centuries.

I find that roughly half the ministers (90 out of 190) were “populist”, having never attended college or divinity school. At the other extreme, only 34 were truly professional, following the contemporary strategy of attending college and then becoming certified through formal training at a divinity school. There are quite striking differences by age and denomination. In particular, the older ministers in the Universalist denomination were strikingly populist, although this changed dramatically in the 19th Century. Unitarian ministers were more uniformly professional throughout the 19th Century.

After delineating these types, I will be concerned with understanding their determinants. Besides age and denomination, I know some other possible determinants such as the occupations of their fathers, the size and industrial bases of their home communities in New Hampshire, and the nature of their non-ministerial careers before becoming ordained. In turn, these characteristics and their ministerial type will be used to study the nature of the ministerial career, including the types of communities where they preached, the geographical dispersal of their ministerial assignments, and the tendency to move among church assignments.


With Two Lamps to Guide Me: Staughton Lynd as Theologian

Colin Bossen

Staughton Lynd is an American historian, social justice activist, labor lawyer, and, I argue, theologian. He was the only significant white organizer of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, was deeply involved in protests against the Vietnam War, and has played an important role in theorizing the problems and potentials of the contemporary American labor movement. Despite his own profession of faith as a religious person, and frequent deployment of religious tropes, little scholarly attention has been paid to how he proceeds as religious thinker. In this paper I track Lynd’s development from his childhood involvement in Ethical Culture through his work as a Quaker prison abolitionist in Youngstown, Ohio.

I suggest that Lynd functions as what Sallie McFague calls a parabolic theologian. As McFague presents it, parabolic theology “is not a theory to be applied to literary genres of the Christian tradition but a kind of reflection that arises from them.” It resides primarily in works of literature, stories, poems, autobiographies and, most importantly, parables. Parabolic theology is “embodied thinking, thought which cannot finally abstract from the person who is doing the thinking.”  Parabolic theologians are not known, primarily, by what they say but rather how they live and what they do. Lynd is a parabolic theologian exemplar. Throughout his career his consistent emphasis has been on pairing what he terms “exemplary action” with theoretical reflection.

Lynd’s own theological interests center on the Latin American tradition of liberation theology. He pays particular attention to the liberation theology concepts of the preferential option for the poor and accompaniment. He has found these two concepts to be essential for his own work as an activist and has theorized how they can help other activists engage in more authentic and effective work.

The paper is built around the discussion of some of Lynd’s key parables, how they relate to his activism and what they suggest about an important religious concern of his, the kingdom of God. In sharing it at Collegium I hope to prompt Unitarian Universalists to see the work of this religious humanist as a resource in our own strivings to create a justice filled world.

Rev. Colin Bossen

PhD Student, American Studies, Harvard University, and Unitarian Universalist Minister


On the Trail of the Polish Brethren

Jay Atkinson

The Polish Brethren were the oldest group with unitarian leanings to be organized in Europe (from 1559, at least seven years prior to the Transylvanian movement). I will review some highlights of this history along with pictures from this July’s tour of historic Polish Brethren sites led by John Buehrens and me. We will conclude with some reflections on the implications of this legacy for modern UUs.

Alfred Cole Unmasked

Alfred Cole Unmasked:

The Provenance of the Universalist Preaching Commission

Jay Atkinson ©2012


The Universalist Preaching Commission, “Go out into the highways and by-ways . . .Give them, not hell, but hope and courage”—long attributed to John Murray—is shown to have been written by Alfred S. Cole in 1950.  The source of the misattribution is identified as a 1962 book by Henry Cheetham, and the trajectory of the misattribution’s subsequent transmission into the circles of Unitarian Universalist legend is traced.  In addition, the aptness of Cole’s words as an accurate expression of the thought of Murray and of Zeitgeist of the late eighteenth century is examined and found wanting in significant historical and theological respects.  The paper concludes with some reflections on how contemporary canons of historiography, especially within UU circles, foster the proliferation of such misattributions and what scholars should consider in moving toward more responsible practices in the writing of UU history.


This paper, in revised form, may be found in:

The Journal of Unitarian Universalist History XXXVII (2013-2014), pp. 100-125.

John Brown, The Secret Six, and the Role of Violence in Social Change

This workshop will examine the three leading Unitarians who were involved in supporting John Brown both financially and materially as he advocated a slave rebellion. We will look at the three Unitarians – Theodore Parker, Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Samuel Gridley Howe, in the context of their careers and their relationship to Brown. Then we will broaden the presentation to discuss the role of violence in social change.

Recovering Abby Price

Abigail “Abby” Hills Price was one of the most important members of Hopedale, the utopian community affiliated with Adin Ballou. She was an early advocate for women’s rights and, like Ballou, a theorist of nonviolence. This scholarly paper explores the life and thought of this largely forgotten women’s right’s pioneer. In the first section, I briefly narrate the history of Hopedale and Price’s life. I also begin to make the case that Price is a figure worthy of recovery. In addition to her place in the early women’s rights movement, she also had a leadership role in Hopedale and important relationships with Hopedale founder and religious leader Adin Ballou and the poet Walt Whitman. The second section of the paper explores the major themes of Price’s writings and contrasts them with writings by Ballou. Price was the major female contributor to Hopedale’s newspaper, the Practical Christian, from 1850 to 1853. Reading her alongside Ballou illuminates the role that gender played in Hopedale and in both Ballou and Price’s political thought and theology. Based upon an examination of several of Price’s texts I contend that their major differences were largely due to their genders. By way of conclusion, the third and final section of the paper explores the scandal that led to Price’s departure from Hopedale and speculates on the role that gender may have played in it.

The Radical Adams Couple of the West (Dubuque) and their Transcendental and Suffragist Friends.

“This talk is based on the book I am writing tentatively titled The Radical Adams Couple of the West (Dubuque) and their Transcendental and Suffragist Friends. Austin and Mary Newbury Adams were self-described radicals who were more than just the hosts of the Transcendentalists (Emerson, Alcott etc.); they fit the description of Transcendentalists themselves.

Mary Newbury Adams became after the Civil War the foremost advocate for women’s clubs in the U.S. This was the time when women were legally and socially required to defer to their husbands. Women’s Clubs were the one venue for women “to hear their own voices.” These were more than social clubs; they were self-empowerment endeavors through mutual education. Along with guest speakers, members gave lectures on science, literature or the arts.

When Mary was not traveling the country for women’s issues she was active as the correspondence secretary for several of her clubs. Her role was to share ideas and to encourage women in their clubs. At the annual Women’s Congresses, she was on the platform with comrades such as Julia Ward Howe and at the World’s Fair in Chicago with Susan B. Anthony. Anthony enlisted Mary to give an 80th birthday tribute to Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Judge Austin Adams, of the Iowa Supreme Court, also had a Transcendental perspective and was active in promoting education. He also supported his wife as she traveled the country for their liberal causes.

The Adams were members of the First Universalist Society of Dubuque.”


On Reading Mark With Two Eyes

“Reading Mark With Two Eyes:
An essay on Mark’s ancient, distant text and the meaning it can hold for us today
The purpose of the essay is to advocate a way of reading important texts of sacred tradition, a way that is true to their original meaning and intent, so far as possible, and a way that invites them to speak to our present, existential concerns and faith. The book which I published in May, 2013, The Seminal Gospel: Forty Days With Mark, exemplifies this “way” or mode of reading; hence, it calls attention to elements in Mark’s story that “stand out” in one way or another (puzzling, surprising, “revealing”, etc.) and relates these elements to theological or spiritual insights.

The argument of the essay is that Mark’s book is called a “Gospel” because it brings to light the gospel, or good news, brought by Jesus that the kingdom of God is at hand. Each of these terms (among others) is a mystery of faith; that is, in order to be meaningful they must be understood and lived out in faith. Jesus himself is presented as a prophet (a teacher who speaks in obscure parables, because mysteries of faith demand it), a charismatic healer and exorcist (powers that demonstrate the gospel in action), and a “community organizer” (gathering followers and commissioning them to take up his three-fold ministry). Thus his ministry is the model for our own ministries–clerical, lay, and communal–a perception that alienation from sacred tradition obscures. Jesus by his notorious “speaking with authority” exemplifies the essence of historical Unitarianism, namely spiritual freedom, and by his charismatic compassion exemplifies the essence of historical Universalism, namely universal love.

Mark’s Gospel is seminal because it plants the seeds from which a vast sacred tradition (a tradition that includes Unitarian Universalists today) grows. But this will remain a mystery to us, unless we learn to read this pregnant text with both critical discernment and spiritual hunger, the two eyes of faith.

[Note: The book is available from the author, or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, paperback or ebook; or see the author’s blog site,]“

Life Mind and Spirit

“The Philosopher, Evan Thompson has presented a thesis that mind is co-extensive with life. The Psychologist Merlin Donald has argued that our human conscious self is a creature of culture and society. They have both presented serious criticisms of standard scientific accounts of life and consciousness.
I intend to build on their work to argue that there is a background related to what we think of as spirit or spirituality in the natural world. And that there is a solid case for considering the natural human self as hosting the emergence of what we might well call the human soul.
This will be a work in progress.”

Promise of Beyond: Utopian Influence in our Movement Today

“In his 2012 essay, Congregations and Beyond, UUA president Peter Morales challenges our denomination to consider itself a religious movement, and asks how it might reach people beyond a congregational setting. The heart of his essay seems to ask what it means to live as a Unitarian Universalist in community, and what various forms such communities might take. This is not the first time members of our faith have experimented with being in community beyond a church setting. Historical examples include:

• Rakow, an intentionally anti-trinitarian Christian community In the mid-1500s, in what was known as the Kingdom of Poland;

• Brook Farm, founded in 1841 by Transcendentalist Unitarian minister George Ripley and several others; and

• Hopedale Community, also founded in 1841 by Universalist minister Adin Ballou on the principles of Christian non-resistance and Christian socialism

UUs are still grappling with the question of community. In his 2003 GA address, Rabbi Harold Kushner identified Unitarian Universalism as more of a “bridging” denomination than a “bonding” one. Kushner quoted from Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, which defines bonding communities as “inward looking” groups that “tend to reinforce exclusive identities … they heighten distinctions between insiders and outsiders;” and bridging communities as “outward looking and encompass[ing] people across diverse social cleavages.” However, because of their “bridging” nature, Unitarian Universalist congregations may have members who fall away more easily, or who do not always remain as committed to the care and support of those beside them in the pews.

Unitarian Universalism may indeed be more of a “bridging” denomination. However, UUs continue to work toward the creation of intentional communities. There are examples on both coasts of the United States, and our historic utopian communities certainly were bonding ones. What wisdom might utopian experiments offer to Unitarian Universalism today, both in evolving brick-and-mortar congregations and in congregations without traditional walls and borders? How might these inform our present journey, at a time when our population is mobile and shifting, lifestyles are changing, and affinity and identity may figure as prominently as geography in American religious life?”


Teaching All Ages About Our History

A panel of religious educators share stories, songs and games, ideas for heritage tours and skits, and other methods and media for engaging children, youth, young adults, and older adults in the excitement of learning about our history and sources. Participants will learn what Conrad Wright said on the subject, get instructions for making a portable Unitarian Universalist history time line, and hear the voice of Sophia Lyon Fahs.

Presenters: The Reverend Betty Jo Middleton, The Reverend Christina Leone, Lora Powell-Haney, Karen Lee Scrivo, and Linda Weaver.”

Race: The Circumstantial Influence of UUism on U.S. Policy

As they did during the 19th century debate over slavery Unitarian and Universalist politicians in the 1960s played important, but by no means exclusively progressive, roles in Civil Rights legislation. It can be argued that as, or more important, were that organizations that lobbied for change like the National Association for the Advancement of Color People an organization which Unitarians helped to found. Another influence is serendipity, but for it to work one must show up as James Reeb did. With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom just passed and the anniversary of Selma approaching this talk will look at UU involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and legislation.


A. Powell Davies in the Nation’s Capital: Bringing the Past to the Present

Meadville Lombard’s extensive A. Powell Davies holdings include his personal papers, over 400 sermons and speeches, a dozen scrapbooks, church records from All Souls, and forty years of personal and professional correspondence. Archivist John Leeker, joined by Denny Davidoff, and Madeleine Robins, will present highlights from the Davies collection to explore Davies’s vital role in the religious, intellectual, and political life of mid-century Washington. A discussion will follow about how the use of archival resources, such as the Davies collection, can illustrate to a non-specialist audience the important role that Unitarian Universalism has played in American history. Denny Davidoff will speak from a lay leader’s perspective about how easy access to archival resources can be a valuable addition to congregational life and how archives can nurture a deeper awareness of the rich and diverse history of Unitarian Universalism. The workshop will conclude with a brief overview of other historically significant Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist holdings at Meadville Lombard and how these archives can serve a resource for the Unitarian Universalist community.