In "What Moves Us," a Tapestry of Faith program
We live by our devotions. — James Luther Adams
This workshop formally introduces the Pragmatic Theory of Religious Beliefs, a theory many Unitarian Universalists already affirm though they may not know it by this name. Developed by Unitarian Universalist minister, theologian, and social ethicist James Luther Adams, the theory, simply stated, is this: Belief is revealed in deeds, not creeds. This workshop uses as a focal point the conversion experience that lies at the devotional heart of Adams' pragmatic theory.
Adams created his Pragmatic Theory of Religious Belief in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a graduate student at Harvard. As he distanced himself from Christian fundamentalist roots and became a Unitarian minister, he developed a conceptual framework to describe his emerging liberal faith. After he witnessed, first-hand, the rise of fascism in post-World War I Germany, this new conceptual work assumed "crucial significance" for him because of what he called a "kind of conversion" experience. He moved from what he described as an "enfeebled" faith, gaining new devotional strength and conviction. His stronger faith "plunged" him into social justice religious work when he returned to the United States.
As a consequence of his conversion experience, Adams bound theory and practice tightly together, working diligently for the next half century on race relations, civil liberties, and housing problems at a time when practical political action on behalf of social justice was unusual for a Unitarian minister or any liberal Protestant clergyperson. He was a founding member of the Independent Voters of Illinois. In that role, he traveled frequently to Washington D.C. to consult with Congressmen and, "participated in precinct organization, becoming a doorbell ringer and also consulting with party leaders in the back rooms." By the end of his life, Adams was recognized as one of the leading liberal theologians and social ethicists of the 20th century.
We are fond of saying that we are a liberal religious people known not by our creeds but by our deeds. Thanks in no small part to Adams' life and work, Unitarian Universalists today understand that our religious beliefs are revealed in our behavior. Using the life and work of Adams as a lens, this workshop examines how behavior reveals beliefs today and invites participants to decide, individually and collectively, whether Adams' theology can help deepen personal and community devotional work and faith-in-action practices.
Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction.
Preparing to lead this workshop
Read one or both of the following for background information on James Luther Adams:
Read the story "The Conversion Experience of James Luther Adams," and Leader Resource 2, James Luther Adams' Theology. As time allows, read the two Adams essays, "The Use of Symbols," and "The Love of God," included as Leader Resources 3 and 4.
Use some or all of the following exercises and questions to help you understand the reading and reflect on Adams' Pragmatic Theory of Religious Beliefs. You are encouraged to write your responses in your theology journal:
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
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Last updated on Thursday, February 21, 2013.
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