Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults


Humanity must ever reach out towards a New Eden. Succeeding generations smile at the crude attempts, and forthwith make their own blunders, but each attempt, however seemingly unsuccessful, must of necessity contain a germ of spiritual beauty which will bear fruit. — Clara Endicott Sears, founder of the Fruitlands Museum

A vibrant stream of idealism runs through Unitarian Universalist history. This workshop introduces Transcendentalism, spiritualism, and Utopianism, three 19th-century movements which perhaps represent a high point of idealism in the United States as well as in both Unitarianism and Universalism. Participants explore the reasons for these expressions of idealism, examine how these movements shaped our faith, and identify strains of idealism in Unitarian Universalism today.

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters in the program Introduction. Make preparations to accommodate individuals who may be in the group.


This workshop will:

  • Highlight the role idealism played in the development of Unitarianism and Universalism in 19th-century America
  • Introduce the Transcendental movement of the 19th century
  • Tell the story of Hopedale, an experimental socialist community of the 19th-century Utopian movement
  • Consider the continuing threads of idealism in our movement today and the challenges inherent in expressing ideals as action.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Understand ways a foundational optimism has shaped our movement
  • Make connections between world events and religious idealism
  • Learn about Transcendentalists, Utopians, and other 19th-century idealists and compare their movements with contemporary movements grounded in idealism
  • Identify ways our Unitarian Universalist Principles reflect our heritage of idealism
  • Consider how to put religious principles into action through financial and social means.