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A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism

A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism

From the Beginning to 1899

A panel of top scholars presents the first comprehensive collection of primary sources from Unitarian Universalist history. Spanning two volumes, each containing more than a hundred distinct selections, with scholarly introductions by leading experts

Editor: Dan McKanan

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A panel of top scholars presents the first comprehensive collection of primary sources from Unitarian Universalist history. This critical resource covers the long histories of Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism in the United States and around the world, and offers a wealth of sources from the first fifty-five years of the Unitarian Universalist Association. From Arius and Origen to Peter Morales and Rebecca Parker, this two-volume anthology features leaders, thinkers, and ordinary participants in the ever-changing tradition of liberal religion. Each volume contains more than a hundred distinct selections, with scholarly introductions by leading experts in Unitarian Universalist history. The selections include sermons, theologies, denominational statements, hymns, autobiographies, and manifestos, with special attention to class, cultural, gender, and sexual diversity. Primary sources are the building blocks of history, and A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism presents the sources we need for understanding this denomination's past and for shaping its future.

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    Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?
    Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons. . . . It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,—the only house in a slave-state in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight...
    I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.

Source: Henry David Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government," in Reform Papers, ed. Wendell Glick (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 65, 67, 72-73, 76-77, 79-81.

Unitarian Universalists today can benefit from greater awareness of the depth and resources of their own faith tradition. This excellent and well-edited collection will go a long way toward meeting that need. The material is well-chosen, and the helpful introductory comments place the selections in context. Overall, an excellent and much-needed resource.
—Paul Rasor, author, Faith Without Certainty and Reclaiming Prophetic Witness


Dan McKanan and his editorial committee of scholars have provided the Unitarian Universalist community with a marvelously useful access to its rich heritage in A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism. With curated writings from early Christianity to the twenty-first century, this collection offers the defining texts of this diverse liberal religious tradition. The compilation is of particular value for its inclusion of texts that illuminate both the religious doctrines and the institutional events that have shaped the complex history of Unitarian Universalism. The authoritative introductory essays provide an illuminating synthesis of the numerous Universalisms and Unitarianisms that have contributed to the movement.
—David M. Robinson, author, The Unitarians and the Universalists and Emerson and the Conduct of Life

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