Building theology, reinscribing subjectivity: Cultivating a liberal identity in Unitarian Universalism
Leitgeb, Lori E.
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This research explores the method of self-cultivation at the heart of Unitarian Universalism. As a "creedless religion," it relies on individual members to construct belief, determine truth, share power, and become authentic. The denomination provides a framework that helps to guide members in independent thought. Unitarian. Universalists, as they strive to become the voice of liberal religion well-suited for our postmodern era, employ an intersubjective approach in order to align with liberal secular and political agendas. The process of becoming a Unitarian Universalist requires individuals to assess agency and shape it through narrative. They internalize liberal theology while participating in an ongoing process of interpretation that guides both thought and action. Since this process places the responsibility on members, it reinforces hyper-individualization which is tempered by subtle influences from group discussion. The ethnographic research I present here explores the micropractices of persuasion that influence individual action and create discourse within two congregations in western New York. It is based on fieldwork conducted between March 2006 and June 2008 when I observed and participated in Sunday services, coffee hours, committee meetings, adult education classes, and youth-group events. I also attended multiple regional youth meetings as well as one national denominational conference. Based on the findings from this research I examine the tension between creating a welcoming community for all who wish to join while adhering to a prescriptive set of liberal agendas that privilege certain notions of "the good."