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Introduction, Workshop 5: Margaret Fuller

In "What Moves Us," a Tapestry of Faith program

What is done here at home in my heart is my religion. — Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)

This workshop introduces Margaret Fuller's Liberal Theology of the Human Heart. The workshop tests the relevance of her theological legacy for our religious lives as Unitarian Universalists today. Fuller, once called "America's first famous European revolutionist since Thomas Paine," taught America how to think, feel, and act with non-dogmatic, life-affirming spiritual integrity. She was an international advocate for human rights the first editor of The Dial, the Transcendentalist literary magazine; and author of five books and almost 350 articles, essays, and poems. Fuller was America's first major foreign correspondent, spending four years in Europe reporting on and supporting, among other things, Italy's attempted republican revolution and one of 19th-century America's most highly paid public lecturers. She showed Americans how the human heart transforms liberal faith into action. Can she help us today to find our religion of the human heart?

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction.

Preparing to lead this workshop

Read the Margaret Fuller entry on the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography website for an overview of her life. As you read, keep in mind that this theological workshop treats her tract, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, as a human rights document for the liberation of men as well as women. Also keep in mind that Fuller's faith was liberal religion with neither creeds nor doctrinal claims.

Read the story, handouts, and Leader Resource 2, At Concord with the Emersons, and, reflect on some or all of the questions provided here to help you better understand Fuller. Look for connections among Fuller's beliefs about feelings, liberal faith, thought and action. You may wish to write your responses in your theology journal.

  • Fuller says she and Emerson ("Waldo") interchanged facts "but no conversation." According to Fuller, what is the difference between talking about facts with someone and having a conversation?
  • Fuller says that in silence, she and Emerson can "see things together." What does it mean to see something together with someone else? Why does she consider this intimate?
  • Fuller says that "the beauty [of nature] does not stimulate me to ask why." Why does she feel that her existence is "filled out" by nature? How does nature speak the "word that is in her heart"? What is the difference between a "god of love" and a "god of truth" for Fuller? Do you make this kind of distinction in your own faith? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Fuller claims that Ellery Channing, her brother-in-law, is "too ideal," and notes that "Ideal people (always) anticipate their lives, and they make themselves and everybody around them restless, by always being before hand with themselves." What does Fuller mean? Do you agree with her?
  • Fuller notes that Emerson has little patience with "mere life." Why does she praise and celebrate "mere life"? Do you? Explain.
  • ?Summarize the difference in attitude toward marriage between Emerson and Fuller. With whom do you more agree and why?
  • Fuller says "Nothing makes me so anti-Christian, so anti-marriage as these talks with L[idian], [Emerson's wife]." How does Lidian provoke Fuller in this way?
  • Fuller acknowledges her wish to live in the red room and have Emerson to read poems to her. Were you surprised by this wish? Explain.

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Last updated on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.

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