4070 Affirming a Multicultural Unitarian Universalist Identity

From General Assembly 2006


  • Natalie Fenimore, Director of Religious Exploration (DRE), Unitarian Universalist Church of Fairfax, VA
  • Gabrielle Farrell, Religious Educator, All Souls Unitarian, Washington, DC

We promote tolerance: we accept other cultures (mostly) and we acknowledge other cultures from time to time. Next, how can we move beyond tolerance, so we can affirm ethnic diversity and celebrate a multicultural identity? "We must purposefully become transformative," Natalie Fenimore urged. As Gandhi said: be the change you want to see in the world.

Often, our RE programs are driven by what Natalie Fenimore calls the "Null Curriculum," which affirms a white, affluent, educated, liberal, and suburban identity. She urged us to replace this null curriculum with intentional effort aimed at transformation.

Listen to what is said, and also listen to what is not said. For those of us in the dominant culture, it is difficult to hear what is not said, but it is all too obvious to those of the minority cultures. Talk to people, ask them what they notice, what they hope for, and what is missing. Ask them what they see when they walk in the door, and what they hope to see.

As we enrich our curriculum with ideas and practices from other cultures, we risk cultural misappropriation. Natalie Fenimore suggests we should take the risk. "Intention matters" she assured us. Consider whether you are connecting multicultural practices to the surrounding community. Are you incorporating content thoughtfully and with knowledge? If you sing a song, consider the context of the song. Ask: what is the truth for us in this song?

We will make mistakes and stumble. "All Souls, DC, has taught me we can make specific intentional steps," Gabrielle Farrell affirmed.

However, as she looked for resources to reinforce these steps, she found they were widely scattered. (Some resources are listed at the bottom of this article.)

There are four approaches to implementing the process of multicultural curriculum reform.

  1. The contributions approach highlights cultural heroes, holidays, and discrete cultural elements.
  2. In the additive approach , time spent on multicultural investigations is greatly expanded with "add-on" units dealing in depth with content, concepts, themes, and perspectives.
  3. The transformational approach enables participants to view concepts, issues, events, and themes from diverse ethnic and cultural perspectives.
  4. The social action approach enhances student engagement by having them make decisions on issues and take actions to solve them.

Multicultural education is primarily a way of thinking. It is thinking about concepts from different people's vantage points, recognizing other perspectives, caring, and taking action to make our society more just and humane. It is a way of asking questions, a way of conceptualizing. It is an inclusive and cementing movement that attempts to bring various groups that have been on the margins of society to the center of society.

There are four essential steps.

  1. Know the stories, both personal and institutional. Who are we, what are our histories, and why?
  2. Listen to the silences. Be aware of who is left out, ignored, or avoided in our lives and the lives of our religious communities.
  3. Engage in critical reflection on the insights of the stories uncovered, and the silences heard. What does this mean for our life together, as we take diversity seriously?
  4. Move toward intentional transformation. Celebrate the new richness and grieve the losses that change brings.


Prepared for UUA.org by Mike McNaughton, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.