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A Brief Annotated Bibliography on Unitarianism and Universalism

Jonathan Black - 9/01

( )(1997): Interdependence - Renewing Congregational Polity (UUA)

The Commission on Appraisal is appointed by the General Assembly of the UUA and reports periodically on various topics which it has studied. This study and recommendations concerning governance and polity within the congregations of the UUA casts considerable light on current UU theology and practice.

Ayer, A. J. (1988): Thomas Paine (University of Chicago Press)

This interesting but arid biography, by the English logician Ayer, contains remarkably rigorous (and not entirely sympathetic!) analyses of Paine's religious and revolutionary writings.

Beard, M. L. and Comstock, R. W. (eds.)(1988): All Are Chosen - Stories of Lay Ministry and Leadership (Skinner House Books)

A contemporary examination of "the priesthood of all believers," as made concrete through lay ministry in the UU movement. Primarily case studies of late 20th cen. projects within UU congregations.

Bloom, H. (1992): The American Religion - The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (Simon & Schuster)

Although Bloom discusses neither Unitarians nor Universalists, his seminal work helps one to understand where UUism is today and how it got there.

Bressler, A.L. (2001): The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880 (Oxford University Press)

This excellent historical account of American Universalism through its' first century betrays its' origins as a Ph.D. dissertation. However, it has much detail and is very exhaustively footnoted, making it an excellent starting point for further investigations. The acknowledgments suggest that Bressler had wonderful access to central theological and historical materials, making this account especially valuable.

Brown, A. W. (1964): Margaret Fuller (Twayne Press)

Still the best biography of an exceptional woman: feminist, reporter, essayist, lover, wife, mother, Unitarian and transcendentalist.

Buehrens, J. A. and Church, F. (1998): A Chosen Faith - An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism (Beacon Press)

An excellent set of "dueling" essays which describe and give the flavor of modern "gathered" UUism. Organized around the six "sources" of our faith practice.

Cassara, E. (ed.)(1971): Universalism in America - A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith (Skinner House Books)

Unlike Unitarians, Universalists were generally not intellectual in bent; thus, their writing is sparse and relatively inaccessible. This is an excellent annotated collection of some of the best from 1741 forward.

Commanger, H. S. (1947): Theodore Parker, Yankee Crusader (Beacon Press)

Still the best biography of this extraordinary Unitarian.

Conkin, P. K. (1997): American Originals - Homemade Varieties of Christianity (Univer. of North Carolina Press)

Chapter. 2 (Humanistic Christianity) deals with Unitarians and Universalists. This chapter is a good, short joint history, with brief summaries of the European roots of both faith practices.

Fruchtman, J. Jr. (1993): Thomas Paine and the Religion of Nature (Johns Hopkins Press)

A somewhat scholarly (and a bit dry) account of Paine's religious and ethical views. Contains a detailed analysis of Paine's essay The Age of Reason (1794)

Fruchtman, J. Jr. (1994): Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom (Four Walls, Eight Windows)

Paine, the whole man. This reads like a novel and is hard to put down!

Greeley, R. E. (ed.) (1988): The Best of Humanism (Prometheus Books)

More than 1/3 of UUs identify themselves as "humanists." This collection includes short pieces and sections of longer works by many well known humanists, covering virtually all spiritual and ethical topics.

Howe, C. A. (ed.) (1999): Clarence Skinner: Prophet of a New Universalism (Skinner House Books)

A collection of three essays on the life of Rev. Skinner, probably the best known 20th. cen. Universalist. Includes a selection of his writings (edited by James D. Hunt) and an extensive bibliography (compiled by Alan Seaburg).

Howe, C. A. (1993): The Larger Faith - A Short History of American Universalism (Skinner House Books)

A brief readable account of Universalism in the US from John Murray's arrival in 1770.

Miller, P. (ed.) (1963): Margaret Fuller - American Romantic (Anchor Books)

A collection of her most important writings, both formal and informal.

Miller, P. (ed.) (1950): The Transcendentalists - An Anthology (Harvard Univer. Press)

An excellent source of original materials (with intelligent commentary) written by 19th. cen. Unitarians.

Muncy, R.L. (1973): Sex and Marriage in Utopian Communities: 19th Century America (Indiana Univer. Press)

Despite the provocative title, Muncy provides good summaries and analyses of the Brook Farm (unitarian/transcendentalist) and Hopedale (universalist) experimental utopian community experiences, in a context of the 19th century communitarian movement. Also includes a rich bibliography of primary sources.

Murray, J. (1816; 1870): The Life of John Murray (Universalist Publishing House)

The autobiography of John Murray, the founder of the American Universalist church. Murray completed the first six chapters ("through winter, 1774") before his death in 1815; the remaining three chapters were written by his widow Judith Sargent Murray, an exceptional woman in her own right. This work is out of print but the most frequently found edition is that of 1870, which includes an introduction (with useful biographical information about Judith) by Rev. Demarest, useful footnotes by Rev. Wittemore and illustrations, including views of the Potter chapel and the First Church in Gloucester.

O'Neal, D., Wesley, A. B. and Ford, J. I.(eds.) (1995): The Transient and Permanent in Liberal Religion (Skinner House Press).

A collection of essays about UU topics and themes arising from a convocation of UU ministers. The title deliberately echoes Theodore Parker's great sermon, The Transient and Permanent in Christianity (1841) (see Wright (1961)).

Owen-Towle, T. (1996): Sauntering (Bald Eagle Mountain Press)

Contemporary practice of Transcendentalism ("soul-journey," in Owen-Towle's words), as inspired by Thoreau.

Richardson, R. D. Jr (1986): Henry Thoreau - A Life of The Mind (Univer. of California Press)

Described by the author as "an intellectual biography of Henry Thoreau from 1837, when he was his death in 1862," this is a trial run at Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, which lead to Richardson's monumental appreciation of Emerson (see below).

Richardson, R. D. Jr (1995): Emerson - The Mind on Fire (Univer. of California Press)

The definitive modern biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Because of his long life (1803-82) and habit of recording what he was reading, this readable biography of the central figure of the Transcendentalist movement is also an able history of 19th. cen. Unitarianism and of the American "renaissance" (1820-50).

Robinson, D. (1985): The Unitarians and the Universalists (Greenwood Press)

More detailed and more balanced than the Buehrens/Church, Howe or Wright works; this is noteworthy for a bibliographic "dictionary," which occupies nearly half the volume.

Robinson, D. (ed.) (1985): William Ellery Channing - Selected Writings (Paulist Press)

A cross section of Channing's central ideas, including Unitarian Christianity (1819) and Self-Culture (1838). Excellent bibliography of Channing and his contemporaries.

Russell, B. (1957): Why I Am Not a Christian (Simon & Shuster)

Essays (including the title one) by one of the best known 20th. cen. humanists. Includes a short sympathetic biographical sketch of Thomas Paine.

Wright, C. (ed.)(1961): Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism (Skinner House Books)

Prophetic sermons by William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker, with an insightful introduction. These three pieces speak strongly to late 20th. cen. religiously concerned people.

Wright, C. (ed.)(1975): A Stream of Light - A Short History of American Unitarianism (Skinner House Books)

The standard work.