There is an immortal desire in every soul for... happiness. — Hosea Ballou, in A Treatise on Atonement

This workshop introduces Hosea Ballou's Theology of Happiness. The workshop tests the relevance of Ballou's theological legacy for our religious lives as Unitarian Universalists today. Ballou was the most influential and singularly important Universalist preacher, public theologian, editor, author, and pastor in 19th-century America. He believed human happiness is a mandate of liberal faith. We have a God-given right to be happy, Ballou insisted. Do you agree?

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

Preparing to lead this workshop

Read the Hosea Ballou entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. Read the Story, "Hosea Ballou's Converstion," Handout 1, Introducing Hosea Ballou, and Handout 2, Excerpt from A Treatise on Atonement, a selection from early Universalist leader Hosea Ballou's most influential work. Use these questions to help you understand the passages in the handout. You may wish to write your responses in your theology journal.

  • What is the argument Ballou is making in his story about the young woman?
  • Does the word "happiness" have the same meaning to us today as it did in the time of Ballou? How would you define happiness? Do you use a different word to name what Ballou calls "happiness"?
  • What does the orange metaphor express about what Ballou sees as the way humans "taste" or experience God?


This workshop will:

  • Build historical knowledge about a Universalist theology of happiness
  • Engage participants in thinking theologically about happiness.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Gain basic knowledge about the life and work of Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), one of the founders of Universalism in America
  • Demonstrate increased self-knowledge about the emotional foundations of their own faith.

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