Educational Materials

Study Guide


Community is central to religious life in Thurman’s opinion. “The personal is the social,” whether in regard to one’s relationship to others or to God. Religious experience is always defined in community. It is, for Thurman, the end goal or purpose of all life.

Questions to Consider

  1. What does Thurman mean by the term “community,” and how is it formed?


  1. In his book Meditations of the Heart, Thurman asserts that “I draw close to God as I draw close to my fellows.” Do you agree with this statement? How does it reflect Thurman’s larger concerns for community?


  1. Thurman argues that the end purpose of all life is to move toward community (or a kind of universal unity). How would this sort of thinking inform how a person lives or conducts her or himself, or how one thinks about the nature of human relationships?


  1. Is Thurman’s idea of interracial, inter-cultural, multi-religious community where individual particularities are maintained and valued (within a larger shared sense of fellowship) possible today? Are we more or less culturally divided today than in Thurman’s time? In your estimation, was Thurman’s vision ever possible or simply a useful if illusory ideal?

Related Thurman Quotes

The profoundest disclosure in the religious experience is the awareness that the individual is not alone. What he discovers as being true and valid for himself must at last be a universal experience. . . . What is disclosed in his religious experience he must define in community. That which God shareth with him, he must inspire his fellows to seek for themselves. He is dedicated therefore to the removing of all barriers which block or frustrate this possibility in the world. He is under judgment to make a highway for the Lord in the hearts and in the market place of his fellows. Through his living men must find it a reasonable thing to trust Him and to trust one another and therefore to be brought nearer to the great sacramental moment when they too are exposed to the love of God at a point in them beyond the evil and the good. . . . (The Creative Encounter 123-24, 129-30; Essential Writings 96-7)


In human society, the experience of community, or realized potential, is rooted in life itself because the intuitive human urge for community reflects a characteristic of all life. (The Search for Common Ground, 5; Essential Writings 90-1)


There is some region in every man that listens for the sound of the genuine in other men. But where there is contact that is stripped of fellow-feeling, the sound cannot come through and the will to listen for it is not manifest. (The Luminous Darkness, 38-9; Essential Writings 104)


The central emphasis of the teaching of Jesus centers upon the relationship of individual to individual, and of all individuals to God. So profound has been the conviction of Christians as to the ultimate significance of his teaching about love that they have rested their case, both for the validity and the supremacy of the Christian religion, at this point. . . . Jesus rests his case for the ultimate significance of life on the love ethic. Love is the intelligent, kindly but stern expression of kinship of one individual for another, having as its purpose the m aintenance and furtherance of life at its highest level. . . . If we accept the basic proposition that all life is one, arising out of a common center – God, all expressions of love are acts of God. Hate, then, becomes a form of annihilation of self and others; in short – suicide. (Deep is the Hunger 108-9; Essential Writings 119)


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