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


Those who find the more conventional communities unsatisfactory sometimes band together to form a new kind of community—an experiment. The kibbutz, Brook Farm, Amana, and Summerhill are diverse examples of such communities.

On a limited basis, LRY is also an experimental community. Sharing interests, ideas, many of the same problems and visions, we try to relate to each other, and through each other, to the society beyond. — from the "Concepts of Community" in the Liberal Religious Youth 1968 Continental Conference program

The autonomous Unitarian Universalist youth movement Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) was heavily influenced by and involved in the counter-culture of the 1960s and early 1970s. Members of LRY challenged gender norms, organized against the Vietnam War, experimented with drugs, and rejected many accepted social standards. Often they organized conferences and other gatherings where conventional social norms were temporarily suspended. Some experienced these events as brief utopian spaces—what the author Hakim Bey calls temporary autonomous zones—where a new society could be glimpsed and even experienced. Sometimes what happened at these events influenced not only Unitarian Universalism but the larger culture. For example, Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test recounts the story of a Unitarian Universalist conference that took place in the mid-1960s in Asilomar, California that was one of the starting points of the decade's psychedelic drug culture. Eager for Unitarian Universalism to be at the vanguard of social change, including the use of psychedelic drugs to heighten spiritual experience, a group of ministers called the Young Turks invited Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters to the conference. The group shared both their lifestyle and drugs with many of the youth and adults in attendance. However, incidents like the one at Asilomar were not typical.

Today, creating temporary community where typical social conventions are suspended is still appealing to many Unitarian Universalists, in our youth movement and beyond. Unitarian Universalists of all ages report that their experiences at camps and conferences allow them to escape the norms of the dominant culture and explore an alternative value system. Some claim their experiences at camps and conferences are life-changing. Using the Unitarian Universalist youth movement as a case study, this workshop asks: Are these counter-cultural experiences actually transformative? Do Unitarian Universalist camps and conferences give us opportunities for social experiment and revitalization not available elsewhere? How much have they shaped contemporary Unitarian Universalism? Do they help us share transformation outside our movement? How are they a manifestation of a parallel approach to social justice work?

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 concept of a temporary autonomous zone
  • Introduce the Unitarian Universalist youth organization Liberal Religious Youth and explore its connection to the 1960s counter-culture
  • Consider the role of temporary autonomous zones in Unitarian Universalism
  • Examine the roles temporary autonomous zones can play in social justice work.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn some history of the Unitarian Universalist youth movement and study the role of temporary autonomous zones in youth faith development and Unitarian Universalist identity development
  • Reflect on their own experiences with temporary autonomous zones
  • Determine whether or not Unitarian Universalist camps and conferences can be temporary autonomous zones
  • Consider whether temporary autonomous zones can be transformational for participants and how they may be useful vehicles for advancing social justice.