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The Living Legacy of C. Conrad Wright: Introduction

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C. Conrad Wright

C. Conrad Wright

On February 7, 2011, C. Conrad Wright, a retired Harvard Divinity School professor and preeminent scholar of American Unitarianism, passed away. His career at HDS spanned 33 years. After retiring from active teaching in 1987, Wright continued to teach one or two courses every year for HDS. He wrote extensively on Unitarian history, including many resources that remain indispensible for scholars of Unitarianism. These works include The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America (1955), which received the Carnegie Award of the American Historical Association. Ministerial candidates continue to read his Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism: Channing, Emerson, Parker (1986), as well as the co-edited A Stream of Light: A Sesquicentennial History of American Unitarianism (1975). The monograph Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian Universalist Practice (1997) remains required reading in polity courses (the full text is available online at the UUA’s website here.) Wright’s collection of lyrical and insightful essays, Walking Together: Polity and Participation in Unitarian Universalist Churches (1989), has recently been made available online by the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society, here.

In October, 2011, Harvard Divinity School honored the legacy of C. Conrad Wright importance to the Unitarian Universalist tradition and to Harvard Divinity School with a retrospective conference called “The Living Legacy of C. Conrad Wright: A Memorial Forum.” As noted in the Harvard Divinity School news announcement, the panelists “convened to reflect on his life’s work and on the ways his insights and vision can continue to guide academic and religious life in the twenty-first century.”

A video of the proceedings can be found at Harvard Divinity School’s website. Additionally, the Journal of Unitarian Universalist History published polished versions of the papers in its Vol. 35 (2012), and the UUHHS has generously agreed to let HSL make the articles from this issue available online.  HSL would like to formally thank the UUHHS and the Journal for extending this privilege, allowing the legacy of C. Conrad Wright’s scholarship to be more widely available.

Panelists included: G. Kim Beach, retired Unitarian Universalist minister, farmer, and leading interpreter of the work of James Luther Adams; Elz Curtiss, Unitarian Universalist minister, historian of local congregations and of congregational polity, and renowned blogger; Dean Grodzins, visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Historical Society and author of American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism; Gloria Korsman, research librarian at Andover-Harvard Theological Library, past chair of the standing committee at First Parish Cambridge, and president of the board of the Harvard Square Library; and David Robinson, Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Director of American Studies at Oregon State University, and the author of Natural Life: Thoreau’s Worldly Transcendentalism and The Unitarians and the Universalists.

Contents of Vol. 35, offered here with full text, include: 

Conrad Wright’s Search for a Usable Past” by George Kimmich Beach

Librarianship for the Covenant” by Elizabeth Curtiss

Conrad Wright, Perry Miller, and Unitarian History” by Dean Grodzins

Walking Together with Conrad” by Gloria Korsman

Conrad Wright and the Course of American Intellectual History” by David Robinson