Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Activity 1: Linking Behavior, Beliefs, and Emotions

Part of What Moves Us

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Participant journals
  • Variety of writing and drawing implements
  • Timepiece (minutes)

Preparation for Activity

  • If participants may need journals, obtain notebooks with unlined pages. Gather a variety of writing and drawing implements.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • Recall an experience where something happened that caused you to decide to change your behavior.
    • Identify the emotion that prompted or accompanied the change in behavior. What did your new behavior mean?
    • Identify the belief (thought or idea) linked to this change in behavior. What belief did the behavior change express?

Description of Activity

Introduce the workshop using these or similar words:

Can James Luther Adams help us broaden and deepen the meaning of our own beliefs as Unitarian Universalists today? The task of this workshop is to help us answer this question. To this end, we will take account of (1) the Pragmatic Theory of Religious Beliefs created by Adams, (2) his conversion experience linked to this theory, and (3) his plunge into new ways of acting in the world prompted by his conversion experience.

Invite participants to recall an experience in which something happened such that they decided to change their behavior. Indicate the reflection prompts you have posted on newsprint. Invite them to describe each of these three elements of the experience (i.e., their behavior, emotion, and belief) in their theology journal. Allow five minutes for writing.

Signal when time is up. Then, explain that James Luther Adams highlights three elements of his Pragmatic Theory of Religious Beliefs: (1) the changed behavior, (2) the feeling that prompted or accompanied the changed behavior and (3) the belief that informed both the changed behavior and its accompanying display of feeling. Explain his theory: If we want to understand someone's belief, we have to observe the person's behavior and feeling (displayed as tone of voice, facial expressions, mood and disposition, attitude, etc.). Moreover, Adams argued, in order to understand someone's belief, we also have to study the way in which the person's belief is displayed in the behavior of a social, political, or economic institution (a family, government, or market system, for example) that the belief sanctions or wants to change.