What is Unitarian Universalism and How Does It Differ from Other Faiths?


Unitarian Universalism is a liberal faith that is becoming more prominent, and in this article, we will give you an overview of the Universalist church and look at how it compares and differs from other types of religious faiths.

Unitarian Universalism: The basics

Although many people are hearing more about Unitarian Universalism and believe it may be something new, what represents Unitarian Universalism today is a combination of two very old churches. The first is the Universalist Church of America, which was founded in 1793. The second is the American Unitarian Association in 1825.

The two groups merged in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Both groups have made significant contributions in terms of theological concepts to shape what Unitarian Universalism is today.

A melting pot of belief systems

Unitarian Universalism has a rich pluralism, being comprised of a conglomeration of belief systems. Unitarian Universalism has many things in common with humanism, as well as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, as well as theism, paganism, agnosticism, atheism, share many beliefs with Quakers and more, according to the American Humanist Association. Humanists acknowledge that they have much common ground with Unitarian Universalists.

The church not only draws its beliefs from world religions, but also from science, nature, philosophy, ancient tradition and personal experience.

Unitarian Universalists are involved in many movements including civil rights, feminist, LGBTQ+ and social justice.

A non-creedal faith

Most religions are based upon some type of creed, that is, a statement of shared beliefs that are typically in the form of a fixed formula that summarizes its core tenets. For example, in Christianity it is “Jesus is Lord,” which comes from the writings of the apostle Paul.

However, Unitarian Universalism asserts no creed. Instead, they are guided by a “living tradition” which is summarized by the Six Sources and Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.

Belief in a higher power?

Unitarian Universalism doesn’t have a set belief in a God our shared concept of the divine. However, some members believe in a God and some do not. Some believe in a higher power or a secret force. For this reason, Unitarian Universalism is able to bring together the theist, agnostic, atheist and everything in between.

It is simply the coming together as a community, where all are stronger become a bit, that provides the unity and it binding between believers.

Religious practices of Unitarian Universalism.

The practices of Unitarian Universalists are not unlike those of many religions. They gather for worship and inspiration on Sunday mornings, as well as at other times. They are involved in volunteer work, as well as doing service work in the pursuit of justice. They have outreach groups aimed at children, middle school and high school youth, young adults, college and university students, adults, families and seniors.

They also celebrate coming-of-age programs, child dedication ceremonies, bridging ceremonies, weddings, memorials/funerals and more.

The Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism

1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.

2. Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.

3. Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.

4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

6. Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Learn more about the six sources.

The seven principles of Unitarian Universalism

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Learn more about the seven principles.

How does Unitarian Universalism differ from other religions?

In one sense, Unitarian Universalism could be thought of more as a philosophy rather than a religion, simply for the fact that it is a conglomeration of many other religious beliefs, as well as non-belief. They differ in the fact that humanists are more driven by secularism and inner awareness and they operate out of human reasoning, where Unitarian Universalism does draw on some teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

Religion can be hard to define. For example, the United States Supreme Court has never completely articulated a formal definition for religion. In 1890 in Davis v. Beason when the court wrote: “[T]he term ‘religion’ has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will.”

In 1961, in Torcaso v. Watkins, the court wrote “those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” The court also clarified: “religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God … Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”

More court cases can be found at Freedom Forum Institute, which add some insight, while still making a distinct definition elusive.