Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History


Those of us who are alive in these times have a clear and evident mission. We have a compelling moral purpose that can direct our lives and our energies: We are about saving the world. So what is our part? The place is to begin at home- that is, with ourselves. Notice what is life-denying and resist it. Live with the moral authority that comes from compassion and non-violence. Form communities of people who will sustain you in living as you wish to live, whether they are study groups or alternative living arrangements or socially responsible, sustainable businesses. Our congregations must be central gathering places for such community. — Marilyn Sewell, "Reclaiming the American Dream," in A People So Bold

Simply defined, "Utopianism" is the belief that a vision of righteousness can be actualized in time and space. One can describe as "utopian" a community in which usual social norms are annulled as a means to reach a higher standard for human life in community. Four well known utopian communities are part of our Unitarian and Universalist histories: Rakow, in 17th-century Poland, and Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Hopedale in mid-19th century New England. None of these communities lasted more than a couple of decades; most collapsed within a short time. Despite their brief existence, these communities have had lasting impact on Unitarian Universalism. Prominent Unitarian and Universalist theologians, literary figures, and activists including Faustus Socinus, Margaret Fuller, Adin Ballou, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were inspired by and involved with them. This workshop explores how these utopian communities have shaped Unitarian Universalist tradition and examines the relationship between Unitarian Universalist theology and utopian thought.

The workshop defines utopianism and its opposite, apocalypticism, before offering a brief history of Brook Farm and its relationship to the Transcendentalist movement. As participants learn the history of Brook Farm, they consider whether or not utopianism is an effective strategy for building and sustaining social justice movements. The workshop closes with a reflection on the ongoing relationship between utopianism and Unitarian Universalism.

To ensure you can help adults of all ages, stages, and learning styles participate fully in this workshop, review these sections of the program Introduction: "Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters" in the Integrating All Participants section, and "Strategies for Effective Group Facilitation" and "Strategies for Brainstorming" in the Leader Guidelines section.


This workshop will:

  • Introduce the premises of utopian and apocalyptic thought and identify strands of both in contemporary Unitarian Universalism
  • Present the story of Brook Farm a 19th-century utopian community founded by Unitarians
  • Examine the utility of utopian and apocalyptic approaches for Unitarian Universalist social justice work.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn about Brook Farm, a 19th-century utopian community founded by Unitarians
  • Understand ways utopianism has shaped Unitarian Universalist history, theology, and tradition
  • Consider the utility of utopian and apocalyptic approaches for Unitarian Universalist social justice work, through examination of approaches to contemporary environmental issues.