Unitarian History in 4 Units of 4 Weeks Each

Theodore Parker Unitarian Church, West Roxbury, Massachusetts

Unit 1. An Overview of Unitarian Hisory

In the winter of 2014, we read David Parke's The Epic of Unitarianism: Original Writings From the History of Liberal Religion with Julie McVey

Unit 2. Unitarianism Through Transcendentalism

In the fall of 2014, David Parke--yes, the person who almost 50 years ago wrote the first text we used--and Jessica Mink led a study using Conrad Wright's Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism: Channing-Emerson-Parker. Week one was a discussion of the introduction, then over succeeding weeks we read and discussed one significant sermon each by William Eller Channing, Ralph Walso Emerson, and Theodore Parker.

Unit 3. Civil War to World War I: Unitarianism and Free Religion"

What happened to Unitarianism after the Transcendentalists and the Civil War? David Parke and Jessica Mink are continuing with a series of discussions about the evolution of Unitarianism from the Civil War to World War I. We met over the first four Mondays in November 2016.

November 2, 2015: Thomas Wentworth Higginson: "Sympathy of Religions"

This week we cover the beginnings of post-transcendental Unitarianism through a paper by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, liberal Unitarian minister, supporter of John Brown, commander of the first Black regiment in the Civil War, and a friend of Theodore Parker and Emily Dickinson. Here is that paper in full and abridged versions, as well as access to Higginson's complete works and writings about several parts of Higginson's life.

November 9, 2015: Free Religion: "a spiritual anti-slavery society"

In 1867, the Free Religion Association was founded by ministers who wanted to go beyond the Christianity to which mainstream Unitarians were tied. The group's first national convention was in Boston on May 28, 1869 and was covered in some detail by the New York newspapers. We'll discuss that meeting and the "Fifty Affirmations" of Octavius Brooks Frothingham and the anonymous "Modern Principles" published in the "Free Religious Index", a weekly newspaper published by Francis Ellingwood Abbot with William James Potter, one of whom probably wrote them. Here are a lot more references by and about the people in this movement.

November 16, 2015: Unitarian Christianity

Probably we should have covered this reaction to Transcendentalism earlier because it was what the Free Religionists were rebelling against, but this group was on top for a long time after the Free Religionists drifted out of the spotlight. While it is true that a more structured belief system advocated by Henry Wentworth Bellows at the 1865 Unitarian Convention was better at keeping a group together, it has not been that stable over time. James Freeman Clarke tried to bridge the differences, sort of, but our class found less affinity for any of these writers than for the Free Religionists.

November 23, 2015: A New Century

Our last class of this series covers the state of Unitarianism as a liberal religion before the start of World War I, based on a widely respected 1913 paper by Harvard Divinity School Dean William Wallace Fenn. There will be conflicts to come...

Unit 4: The Humanist-Theist Controversy

We'll cover the 20th Century through 1962, looking at how Humanists, Theists, and those with other beliefs have been eventually able to coexist in one religion. We'll also look at how views of our Unitarian past have changed through the century.