Unitarian Universalism is a religious denomination which embraces theological diversity. It reflects the merger of two longstanding traditions: Unitarianism and Universalism. Both traditions have Judeo-Christian roots extending back hundreds of years; some even to the very beginnings of Christianity. Unitarian Universalism has no creed; its adherents are free to follow many paths in the search for truth and decide their own beliefs about theological issues.
Originally, Unitarians were simply Christians who did not believe in the Trinity. Instead, they advocated the unity of God as their founding doctrine. Unitarian beliefs have been part of Christian theology since the time of the death of Jesus. However, religious groups did not form around this theological principle until the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. Unitarianism emerged in America in the early 19th century, primarily in New England in Congregationalist churches. The churches were organized around broad principles of rational thinking, the humanity of Jesus, and each individual having a direct relationship with God.
Universalism has an equally long history which extends deeply into the history of Christianity beginning with some of the earliest Church scholars such as Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Universalists denounced the doctrine of eternal damnation in favor of universal salvation and a loving God who will redeem all.
Universalism formed as a distinct denomination in America in 1793. Unitarians became a denomination in 1825. The two denominations consolidated into one, known as the Unitarian Universalist Association, in 1961. Today, there are approximately 1,041 congregations in Canada, the United States, and abroad. Worldwide membership is estimated at between 120,000 and 600,000 individuals.
Historically, both Unitarians and Universalists have been active in social justice, social reform, and other political issues. Their members have been involved in causes such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the feminist movement, gay rights, and other social reform campaigns.
Unitarian Universalism’s defining characteristic is that it has no set beliefs. While both traditions began as divergent groups within Christianity and looked to the Bible as their source of truth, today the organization recognizes sacred texts and scriptures from all religions. There is no one way to think about the soul, the afterlife, or even God. While welcomed, belief in God is not required to be a member of a congregation. A variety of spiritual practices are found and welcomed within the congregations: Humanist, Agnostic, Earth-centered, Atheist, Buddhist, Christian and Pagan are the most prevalent.