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He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in. — Edwin Markham, American poet (1852-1940)

This workshop introduces the terms "orthodoxy" and "heresy" and explores how, throughout history, many of our forebears' have defined their faith in reaction to prevailing powers and dominant ways of thinking. Participants learn about times when tension between ideas or groups led one idea to be declared "heresy" in relation to mainstream or orthodox thinking or practices. Finally, participants consider whether contemporary Unitarian Universalism embraces some "orthodoxies" in theology, in values, or in culture.

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters in the program Introduction. Make preparations to accommodate individuals who may be in the group.


This workshop will:

  • Examine the meaning of heresy in relation to orthodoxy
  • Demonstrate that a theme of heretical thought and action in our faith history recurs in and helps define Unitarian Universalism
  • Explore the cultural, political, and intellectual dynamics at several points in history when our forebears were considered theological outsiders, or heretics.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Understand contemporary Unitarian Universalism's relationship to historical heretics not as a direct theological link, but as a sympathetic connection based on the value of theological questioning and the principle that "revelation is not sealed"
  • Learn about Arias, an early heretical figure in Western Christian history, and why he was a theological outsider
  • Consider what it means to include or exclude others from a community of faith on the basis of their ideas or beliefs
  • Explore whether and if so, how, one might apply the terms "orthodoxy" and "heresy" within contemporary Unitarian Universalism.

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