World Religions

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism (UU or UUism) is a theologically liberal, inclusive belief system. The name resulted from the consolidation of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations in 1961. Unitarian Universalists claim a theological orientation that aspires to creativity, freedom, and compassion with respect for diversity and interconnectedness as well as encouraging spiritual growth and justice-making through worship, fellowship, personal experience, social action, and education. The free and responsible search for truth and meaning serves as a touchstone for Unitarian Universalists. The term "Unitarian Universalism" overlaps with Unitarianism and Universalism, though properly speaking the latter two terms refer historically to separate movements.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), founded in 1961 as a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches in North America. It is the largest public expression of the religion in the world. The UUA represents more than 1,000 member congregations that collectively include more than 217,000 members. Unitarian Universalists follow a congregational model of church governance, in which power to call ministers and make other decisions involving worship, theology and day-to-day church management take place at the local level. The denominational headquarters in Boston in turn provides services for congregations that can more effectively be handled through joint efforts. Founded in 1995, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) serves congregations throughout the world.
Both Unitarianism and Universalism trace their roots to Christian Protestantism. Many UUs appreciate and value aspects of Christian and Jewish spirituality, but the extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one's personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with UU's creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development. Even before the Unitarian and Universalist movements combined their efforts at the continental level, the theological significance of Unitarianism and Universalism expanded beyond the traditional understanding of these terms.

Unitarian Universalism History

Traditionally, Unitarianism is a form of Christianity. The term may refer to any belief about the nature of Jesus that affirms God as a singular entity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rebuffed by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but it resurfaced subsequently in Church history. Unitarian churches were formally established in Transylvania and Poland (by the Socinians) in the 16th Century. Michael Servetus, a Spanish proto-Unitarian, was burned at the stake in Geneva, in 1553, on the orders of John Calvin. Universalism started as a separate Christian "heresy," with its own long history. It also can be traced deep into Christian past, beginning with the earliest Church scholars. Both Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa preached its essentials. Universalism denies the doctrine of eternal damnation; instead, it proclaims a loving God who will redeem all souls. In 1793, Universalism emerged as a particular denomination in the United States, eventually called the Universalist Church of America.
In the United States, the Unitarian movement began primarily in the Congregational parish churches of New England. These churches, which may still be seen today in nearly every New England town square, trace their roots to the division of the Puritan colonies into parishes for the administration of their religious needs. Beginning in the late 18th century, a Unitarian movement began within some of these churches. As conflict grew between Unitarian and Trinitarian factions, Unitarians gained a key faculty position at Harvard in 1805. The dispute culminated in the foundation of the American Unitarian Association as a separate denomination in 1825.
After the schism, some of those churches remained within the Congregational fold, while others voted to become Unitarian. In the aftermath of their various historical circumstances, some of these churches became member congregations of the Congregational organization (later the United Church of Christ), others became Unitarian and eventually became part of the UUA. Universalist churches in contrast followed a different path, having begun as independent congregations beyond the bounds of the established Puritan churches entirely. Today, the UUA and the United Church of Christ cooperate jointly on quite a number of projects and social justice initiatives. In the 19th century, under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who had been a Unitarian minister) and other Transcendentalists, Unitarianism began its long journey from liberal Protestantism to its present more pluralist form.
Unitarians and Universalists often have had a great deal of common interests and communication between them; they have often been associated in the public's mind. That said, one observation made years ago about Unitarianism and Universalism to distinguish them, long before their consolidation, was that "Universalists believe that God is too good to condemn man, while Unitarians believe that man is too good to be condemned by God." Both Unitarianism and Universalism evolved over time into inclusive, tolerant religions. In 1961, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), thus forming the Unitarian Universalist Association. In the same year, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) formed and became an arm of the UUA to service the needs and interest of Canadian Unitarian Universalists. In 2002, the CUC split off from the UUA, although the two denominations maintain a close working relationship.
Recently, the "borrowing" of religious rituals from other faith traditions by Unitarian Univeralists has come under closer scrutiny. Many UUs have asked whether the indiscriminate taking of the words and rites from the religions of others, and their incorporation into pluralist UU religious services, would be seen as a form of unwelcomed cultural appropriation by those from whom such borrowing is undertaken. In many congregations, the question has not yet been directly posed such that a coherent answer can be provided. In other congregations, the questions have prompted inquiry into what it might be about "Western" religious traditions that encourages taking from other faith traditions about which there may only be a superficial understanding. Although these questions go to the heart of the UU tradition, facing these difficult questions has helped many UUs and many UU congregations strengthen their faith and their faith practices.
In 1995 the UUA helped establish the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) to connect unitarian and universalist faith traditions around the world.

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