UU History • The Syllabus • Contents





Thomas Starr King (click for larger image)

Thomas Starr King, a Universalist by birth who became a Unitarian minister, thus brought together two movements that would  eventually consolidate.  (Click for larger image.)

The syllabus is divided into 14 units. We will cover one unit per week.

Warm-up Reading (If Time Permits): Orthodoxy and Dissent
We will examine the history of orthodoxy and dissent within Christianity from the Early Church until the Reformation.  How is “heresy” defined? What is the role of the dissenter in church and society?  No reflection paper required for this unit.  This is for your information only.
Unit 1: Renaissance Humanism
Many of the humanist values of modern liberal religion have their origins in the Renaissance.  We will explore some of the key events, ideas, and figures from this period.
Unit 2: Radical Reformation
What made the Radical Reformation “radical”?  What were its defining characteristics?  Unitarianism (and to a lesser degree Universalism) have their roots in this movement that began in Sixteenth Century Europe.  We will explore some of the major groups (Anabaptists, Polish Brethren) and focus on the early antitrinitarians, especially Michael Servetus.
Unit 3: Socinianism and Transylvanian Unitarianism
The first faith communities in which Unitarianism took root were the Polish Minor Church (the Socinians) and the Transylvanian Unitarians.  In this unit we explore the history of our movement in these lands.
Unit 4: Unitarianism in England
This unit will explore the link between continental Unitarianism and its distinct origins in England.  We will also look at the thought of Joseph Priestley and the important influence of the Enlightenment on liberal theology.
Unit 5: Puritanism and Arminianism in America
This unit will trace the gradual movement of the churches of the Standing Order from orthodox Puritanism to liberal Arminianism.  In particular, we will look at the two outspoken representatives of these views: Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy.
Unit 6: Origins of Universalism
There are many hypotheses regarding the origins of Universalism in America.  We will explore several of these, and discuss the defining elements of early Universalist thought.
Unit 7: Classical Unitarianism in America
The final split between the liberals and orthodox of New England occurred during what came to be known as the Unitarian Controversy.  We will trace the events leading up to this break, as well as some of the important early leaders of institutional Unitarianism: Henry Ware and William Ellery Channing.
Unit 8: Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is one of our movement’s most important contributions to theology, philosophy and literature.  Who were the Transcendentalists?  What was their dispute between more traditional Unitarianism?  What beliefs did they share?
The statue of Thomas Starr King

A portrait, and a picture of Thomas Starr King’s statue in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California.

Unit 9: Abolition
Abolition is one of our movement’s most important contributions to theology, philosophy and literature.  Who were the Transcendentalists?  What was their dispute between more traditional Unitarianism?  What beliefs did they share?
Unit 10: Women in the Nineteenth Century
Many of the important leaders of the Nineteenth Century Women’s movement were affiliated with Unitarianism and Universalism.  Recent feminist scholarship has shed much light on their lives and accomplishments.  We will explore some of this exciting new research.
Unit 11: Unitarians and Universalists post-Civil War
Though this period is often overlooked in the stories of our movement, the second half of the Nineteenth Century saw many theological and institutional changes as the denominations move westward.  Many of these changes are embodied in the story of the Iowa Sisterhood, a group of liberal women ministers in the Midwest.  We will read about their experience in Cynthia Grant Tucker’s Prophetic Sisterhood.
Unit 12: Crisis of Liberalism
Industrialism and World War I are two of the events that shook liberal religion in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, provoking such diverse theological movements as the Social Gospel, Humanism, and Neo-orthodoxy.  We will discuss the role of Unitarians and Universalists in fostering and responding to these movements.
Unit 13: Consolidation and Polity
The middle decades of the century saw institutional change within each denomination, as well as a movement toward consolidation of the two movements.  We will explore the events leading up to this historic event in the history of our tradition.
Unit 14: Justice
The Civil Rights movement was an important event in the lives of many Unitarian Universalists and in the institutional life of the young denomination itself. We will look at UU involvement in the Civil Rights movement as well as other struggles for justice, and discuss the Black Empowerment controversy.

UU History

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