In Children of the Same God, Susan J. Ritchie makes the groundbreaking historical argument that, long before Unitarianism and Universalism merged in the United States, Unitarianism itself was inherently multireligious. She demonstrates how Unitarians in Eastern Europe claimed a strong affinity with Jews and Muslims from the very beginning and how mutual theological underpinnings and active cooperation underpin Unitarian history but have largely disappeared from the written accounts. With clear implications for the religious identity of Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as Unitarian Universalists, and especially for interfaith work, Children of the Same God illuminates the intertwining histories and destinies of these traditions.
I would like to think that our deliberate Unitarian engagement with Judaism and Islam in Europe might come to serve as a lived example of our own Andalusia—a remembrance/hope of what riches are possible when we embrace multi-religious engagement. Ibn Arabi, the theologian most influential on the religious expression of the Ottoman Empire (later expressed through the poetry of Rumi), described one of the realms of spiritual ascension as the imaginal. The imaginal is a place where things are absolutely real and completely true, even though they are perceived not through the senses but through the imagination. I like to think of Unitarian multi-religious engagement and enmeshment as our imaginal. It has seen variously imperfect and all too brief incarnations in our movement, but it nonetheless lies very close to the heart of our experience, and it waits, I believe, for us to overtly champion it again.
Could it be that toleration, that most precious inheritance of the European Enlightenment, was instead a shared liberal Christian/Muslim undertaking? It is especially ironic that while we praise the progressive, diversity-promoting character of our earliest Unitarian statements of religious toleration, we have also defined them heartily as products of liberal European genius. It is well past the time to live out the paradigm of shared understanding that we have already heralded.
As we have seen, European Unitarianism was formed in large part by the desire to honor Christianity's close kinship with Judaism and Islam. Convinced that Christians, Muslims, and Jews were a part of the same religious family, Unitarians emerged as those liberal Christians who resisted theologies of God that could not be freely shared across traditions. Eventually, this impulse became more than an abstract theology, as Unitarians sought to establish actual relationships with their Jewish and Islamic kin.
Table Of Contents:
Foreword by Rebecca Parker
Developing Heresies, Developing Allies
European Unitarianism in Creative Cultural Exchange with Ottoman Islam
European Unitarianism in Relationship to Judaism
Resistances and Possibilities in the North American Unitarian Engagement with Islam and Judaism
Dr. Ritchie takes her readers on a journey through the history of Unitarian dialogues with Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Readers will realize from the start that it's not the expected journey. It's a compelling story that explores the history of shared borderlands of Unitarians and other religions in a moment when such discussions are paramount, and crucial reading for anyone interested in the obstacles to and opportunities for religious tolerance.
—Professor Amy Shuman, Melton Center for Jewish studies, Ohio State University
"I didn't know that!" I said that to myself several times each chapter. So will you. Susan Ritchie has given us new insights that will shift your understanding of Unitarian history, as they did mine. The Unitarian calling to a catalytic role in interfaith relations has deep roots, but also dangers. Both are traced here.
—John A. Buehrens, author, Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People's History, and past President, Unitarian Universalist Association