Conversation as Epistemic Practice in Congregational Life

In seeking implementation of the covenant of Unitarian Universalist congregations to “affirm and promote . . . the free and responsible [formerly, ‘disciplined’] search for truth and meaning,” I intend to draw upon historical and philosophical resources to work toward a constructive doctrine and interactive practice of ethical and theological reflection in UU congregational life.

Part One of this project, the present paper and at this point still a work in progress, begins the historical portion of this project.  I aim to elucidate conversation as an epistemic practice within the Polish and Transylvania antitrinitarian movements by viewing their documentary record in the context of pre-Reformation communal practices of epistemic discernment, the Ciceronian understanding of sermo as appropriated in humanistic circles by Erasmus, Calvin, Acontius, Bodin, et al., aspects of religious dialogue as a literary form in the Reformation era, and hermeneutic practices in Anabaptist communities.

Part Two, to be pursued in future presentations, will carry this survey forward to include dialogical and conversational practices in American Unitarian and Universalist traditions, and modern ideas of philosophical hermeneutics from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Merold Westphal, and others, to propose specific communicative skills and styles which might guide contemporary Unitarian Universalists in making more fruitful and creative use of theological, ethical, social, and political diversities within their own congregations to help one another clarify, deepen, and articulate their individually varied beliefs and values.