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Religious Studies

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November 4th, 2014

  • Image preview 3:30pm: “A Religion of Convenience: The Universal Life Church, Contemporary Weddings, and the Secular Sacred” - Dusty Hoesly CAS ’02
    Major national news outlets have observed that weddings in the United States, especially for young educated people, are increasingly performed by ministers who are friends or relatives of the couple and who become ordained online just for that purpose. The primary organization licensing these ministers, and thus authorizing these weddings as legally valid, is the Universal Life Church (ULC), which has ordained over 20 million people since 1962. To date, there has been no focused study of the ULC or weddings conducted under its auspices. According to my initial research findings, both ULC ministers and the couples who use them self-describe as non-religious, usually as agnostic, atheist, apathetic, secular, or spiritual. Similarly, they describe their weddings in non-religious terms, emphasizing the personalization of the ceremony to match their particular beliefs and tastes as well as the conscious exclusion of most religious language. These secular or spiritual wedding ceremonies reveal non-religious couples’ desires for an alternative apart from bureaucratic civil ceremonies or traditional religious rites. Using original archival, survey, interview, and participant observation data, mostly based in California and the Pacific Northwest, this paper explores why “secular” people employ ULC-ordained ministers for their weddings, and how ULC ministers and couples married by them label and valuate their “non-religious,” personalized wedding ceremonies. My examination of ULC weddings reveals not only the diversity of non-theistic self-identification and lifecycle ritualization, but also how constructs such as religious and secular can be co-constitutive rather than oppositional.

Religious Studies

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