James Luther Adams Forum on Religion and Society

The Forum carries forward the intellectual legacy of James Luther Adams, relating his theological, ethical, political, and cultural thought to contemporary concerns. The James Luther Adams Foundation has sponsored the Forum annually since 1996. A distinguished series of academic, civic, and religious leaders have been presenters, most often in the speaker’s institutional venue. In keeping with Adams’s insistence that such lectures be open to public discussion, Forums have regularly featured prepared responses and open comments and questions. A list of Forum speakers and topics follows.

upcoming Forum
Professor Charles Mathewes
Charles Mathewes

Plans are underway for the 2022 Forum and will be announced on this page when complete.

The 2020/2021 Forum was a success! After more than a yearlong delay due to Covid-19, the Forum was held October 2021 at the University of Virginia. 

Read and/or watch Charles Mathewes’ timely and deeply probing lecture “The Future of American Christianity after the Religious Right” and the response by William J. Everett at the 2020/2021 JLAF Forum. 

(Note that the 2021 Forum was postponed from the previously announced date in November, 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic.)

Past Forums

James Luther Adams
Forum on Religion and Society:

A chronological listing

Links to complete texts for some (a work in progress)


2020/21: The Future of American Christianity after the Religious Right

Charles Mathewes, Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia

Respondent: William J. Everett, Herbert Gezork Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Emeritus, Andover Newton Theological School 

Read the Charles Mathewes Forum 2021 Lecture

Read response from William Everett – Beyond the Religious Right – A Response.

2019: “The Political Life, Influence, & Philosophy of James Luther Adams”

Dr. Jared Aaron Farley, associate professor of Political Science, New Mexico Military Academy
University of New Mexico Albuquerque, November 10

Respondents: Rev. Angela Herrera, First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Rev. Judith Deutsch, minister emerita, First Parish of Medfield, Massachusetts.

Click to access the 2019 Farley lecture

2018: “The Soul of Democracy”

Dr. Sharon D. Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Unity Church—Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 3

Respondent, Prof. Wilson Yates, United Theological Seminary

The thought and example of James Luther Adams carries significant lessons for countering the rise of authoritarianism today. To be effective “creative builders of community” liberals need to be self-critical with respect to individualism and other biases.

Click to access the 2018 Welch lecture

2017: “James Luther Adams and Unitarian Universalist History”

Professor Dan McKanan, Harvard Divinity School 
Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Adams’s role as historical actor—someone who directly shaped the evolution of institutions and the unfolding of events—has been widely acknowledged but not deeply examined. I propose to undertake such an examination. . . .”

Click to read and see video of 2017 McKanan Forum lecture.

2017: “Defeating Fascism”

Rev. Chris Hedges, Presbyterian minister and former foreign correspondent 
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Princeton, New Jersey, February 18

2015: “James Luther Adams and the Spirit of Liberal Theology”

Professor Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University 
Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, November 11

Click to access 2015 Dorrien lecture

2014: “Not Without Thistles and Sweat”

Brian Snyder and Virgil Stucker 
Gould Farm, Monterey, Massachusetts, August 22

“As both Adams and Will Gould, the founder of Gould Farm, would affirm, there is a very real magic that occurs when people come together in common cause to address some of life’s most intransigent problems. . . . The ‘Gould Farm model’ addresses a much more basic aspect of the human condition than the more obvious mental health objective of its programs alone.” –Brian Snyder

2014: “Thinking with JLA Towards a Deeper Democracy and the Aesthetics of Solidarity”

Professor Michael Hogue, Meadville Lombard Theological School 
Meadville Lombard Theological School, Chicago, Illinois, March 14

“Though JLA considered it plausible that the human future would require the forging of a new ecology of root metaphors of social and politial life, I want to suggest in what follows that the very possibility of this future lies with the root metaphors of ecology.”

View Forum Lecture with Michael Hogue

2011: “’What’s Past Is Prologue’: James Luther Adams and the Unitarian Universalists”

Rev. Dr. George Kimmich Beach 
Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts, November

Respondents: Professor Michael Hogue, Rev. Thomas Schade

The lecture, here significantly augmented, concerns (I) Adams’s religious evolution from childhood to maturity, and his influence on the author, (II) his career as a minister, a denominational activist, and an academic, and (III), the major elements of his theology as “prologue” to the future of liberal theology. Appendices detail his Unitarian Universalist activities and the history of his major publications.

Click to access the 2011 Beach lecture

2011: “Together and by Association: The Legacy of James Luther Adams and the Future of Religious Colleges and Universities”

Professor John R. Wilcox, Manhattan College
Manhattan College, New York, New York, March 31

Response by Professor Gary Dorrien

The lecture is not for publication except by permission of the author.

2009: “Religion and Civil Society: In James Luther Adams, Abraham Kuyper, and Catholic Social Teachings”

Professor Don Browning, University of Chicago Divinity School 
University of Chicago Divinity School, October 15

Response by Dr. Ian S. Evison

2009: “James Luther Adams as Biblical Theologian”

Professor Patrick D. Miller
Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, January 12

Read the Patrick Miller Forum lecture.

2008: “On Friendship—Theological, Ecumenical, Philosophical, Socio-ethical—between James Luther Adams and Genevese Theologian Andre Barthelemy Bouvier and Italian Philosopher Umberto Campagnolo”

Michelle Campagnolo Bouvier, International Secretary General of the Societe Europeenne de Culture, Venise 
Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Houston, Texas, April 6

The lecture describes Adams’s ecumenical commitments with these two friends and the ecumenical structure that they developed.

2007: “James Luther Adams: Evangelical Unitarian or Unitarian Evangelical?”

Professor Harvey Cox 
Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March

What Cox learned from Adams helped him “understand the progressive contribution of evangelicals and Pentecostals in Latin America, and in Brazil in particular,” illustrating Adams’s interest in “how institutional patterns that arise first in religious congregations can ultimately shape and transform the larger society.”

Click to read Cox Forum lecture.

2006: “Eco-feminist Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics: A Comparative View”

Professor Rosemary Radford Reuther, Pacific School of Religion 
Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, April 20

Response by Zayn Kassam, Claremont School of Theology

Read Rosemary Radford Reuther Forum Lecture.

2004: “Three Issues in Catholic Social Thought Engaging James Luther Adams”

Rev. Dr. J. Bryan Hehir, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University 
Georgetown University, Washington, D. C., October 22

Response by Rev. Dr. John R. Wilcox

2004: “The Risky Venture of Worship”

Professor Robin W. Lovin, Perkins School of Theology 
Southern Methodist University, February 2

The “risky venture” of worship lies in negotiating the boundary and the connection between religion and culture—concern addressed especially by Paul Tillich, one that came into sharp focus for Adams during his engagements with church people under Nazi Germany. 

2003: “Liberalism and World Order: The Thought of James Luther Adams”

Professor David Little, Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School, April 23

A consideration of the connection that Adams saw between religion and progressive liberalism, relating to his experience of the churches under Nazi Germany and the problem of international terrorism today.

Click to read 2003 Forum David Little lecture

2002: “Faith and Law in a Multicultural World”

Professor Harold J. Berman 
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, April 1

 “The God of history” calls humanity to “come together or you will destroy each other.” A common faith, discernable within the religious and the humanist traditions of the world, underlies the emerging international legal order in an emerging “age of the holy spirit.”

Read the Howard J. Berman Forum Lecture.

2001: “James Luther Adams: The Theologian and his Theology of the Arts”

Dr. Wilson Yates, Dean, United Theological Seminary 
United Theological Seminary and Unity Church Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota, April 20

Responses by Rev. Kendyl Gibbons, Dr. Paul E. Capetz, Lyn Burton

2000: “What’s Wrong with Religious Liberalism?”

Professor George Pickering 
University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, Michigan, April 1

“A fully developed religious liberalism would be a vigorous articulation of the democratic faith for our place and time,” including acknowledgment of its “morally mixed history.” The legacy of Jefferson and Lincoln informs Adams’s part in this struggle in the 20th century.

1999: “Civil Society and James Luther Adams: Dissent and Citizenship”

Professor Clare B. Fischer 
Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley, California, February 9

Panelists: Dr. Jonathan Stanger, Dr. Michelle Campagnoio Bouvier

1998: “Civitas in Horto: Toward a Public Theology for the Chicago Region”

Professor J. Ronald Engel
Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, Hinsdale, Illinois, May 21

Click to access the 1998 Engel lecture

1996: “Graceful Prophecy James Luther Adams’s Theology of Art and Ethics”

Professor Max L. Stackhouse
House of the Redeemer, St.Peter’s Lutheran Church. New York, NY, November 2

A Symposium and Musical Offering Honoring James Luther Adams with the lecture by Max Stackhouse and performances of new works by Daniel Pinkham and Frank Burch-Brown. The event was sponsored by The Society for Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture and the James Luther Adams Foundation.

Read Max L. Stackhouse Forum Lecture.

Beach, George Kimmich | 2011 

Berman, Harold J. | 2002 

Bouvier, Michelle Campagnolo | 2008 

Browning, Don | 2010 

Cox, Harvey | 2007  

Dorrien, Gary | 2016  

Engel, Ronald J. | 1998 

Farley, Jared | 2019 

Fischer, Clare | 1999 

Hedges, Chris | 2017 

Hehir, Bradley | 2004 

Hogue, Mike | 2014 

Little, David | 2003 

Lovin, Robin | 2004 

Miller, Patrick | 2009 

Pickering, George W. | 2000 

Reuther, Rosemary Radford | 2006 

Snyder, Brian | 2015 

Stucker, Virgil | 2015 

Stackhouse, Max | 1996 

Welch, Sharon D. | 2018 

Wilcox, John R. | 2011 

Yates, Wilson | 2001