The Accidents of Unitarian History: From Puritans to Educated Activists

Unitarianism is often defined in terms of abstract and universal principles, such as “freedom, reason, and tolerance,” or “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  But, like every tradition, it has also been shaped by its cultural context and by chance events and circumstances.  These accidents of history give flesh to the spirit of liberal religion. Without them, we might not have institutions or communities to pass our principles down to future generations.

This presentation will explore five accidents of history that have shaped Unitarianism in the United States: its ancestry in the Puritan churches of New England; its birth just after the American Revolution, when the nation was launching its experiment with religious freedom; its transformative encounter with German idealism during the age of Emerson; its symbiotic relationship with colleges and universities; and its marriage, in 1961, to the Universalist tradition. These stories may inspire German Unitarians to reflect on the accidents that have shaped their own past—and future.

Lecturer: Prof Dan McKanan, Harvard Divinity School