Protestant Educators

Picture of Sophia B. Fahs

Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978) was a pioneer in the development of theory and practice in religious education during the early decades of the twentieth century. Her long and distinguished career led to international recognition as an innovator in the religious education of children. Fahs' life spanned several periods of theological development in the United States over the course of which her own theology underwent radical revision from evangelical orthodoxy to religious liberalism. The New Beacon Series in Religious Education curriculum, a culmination of her life's work, wove together the signs of the time: liberal theology, progressive education, scientific worldview, child development theory, mysticism and historical biblical criticism. Her work continues to be influential in the development of curricular materials for religious education.

Biography

Orthodox Christian thought was deeply rooted in the eighteenth and nineteenth century U.S. Protestant experience and formed the backdrop for the early religious experiences of Sophia Lyon Fahs. Her long career in the field of religious education was inspired by her mother, Mandana Doolittle Lyon, who was gifted missionary teacher. Sophia's father, David Nelson Lyon, enjoyed teaching as a young man, but was not adept at the necessary disciplining of his students. After their marriage, Mandana and David Lyon accepted an invitation to go to China as missionaries of the Presbyterian Church. There in Hangchow in 1876, the same year Sophia was born, Mandana opened a small school for the education of Chinese children, especially girls who were traditionally unschooled (Nolan 2004a, 32).

After the Lyon family relocated to Wooster, Ohio when Sophia was three and a half years old, the children attended Sunday school regularly and excelled in their classes in school. When Sophia Lyon's father was called back to China, the rest of the family decided to remain in Wooster, Ohio. There, the children could take advantage of the opportunity to attend the College of Wooster at no cost because of their father's missionary status. The Lyons were quite poor, but their energetic and creative spirits as well as their love of learning seemed to override anything they lacked in material possessions.

The religious upbringing of the seven Lyon children was evangelical in nature and the Sabbath was always strictly observed. In an interview with David Parke, Fahs described her childhood home environment: We had family prayers and Bible reading every day. Each of us took our turn until we went right through the Bible. Sunday was a very carefully observed day, spent mostly going to church, reading religious books, playing Bible games and singing. (1965, 249)

These years with her staunchly evangelical family had a great impact on young Sophia. Among the values she gleaned from her childhood that would later be reflected in her own theology were: the centrality of the family in the religious upbringing of the children, the importance of church life, the value of education, the virtues of religious sensibilities, a love for creation and its revelatory nature, and a strong ethical strain. The missionary zeal and theological orthodoxy that led Sophia Lyon's parents to China became exemplary motivational forces for her as well. The strong sense of nationalism and the intensity of her parents' sacrifice did not go unnoticed by young Sophia. She too longed for the missionary life. She was not immune however to the social rumblings outside her protected world.

During Sophia Lyon's years as an undergraduate student at Wooster College in Ohio, she became involved in the YWCA and grew quite serious about her faith and her call to become a missionary (Hunter 1966, 30). In 1896, at a YWCA conference in Wisconsin Sophia Lyon met her like-minded future husband, Charles Harvey Fahs, the son of an itinerant Methodist minister, who shared her dream of becoming a missionary.

It was during these college years that she began teaching Sunday school to kindergarten-aged children. After graduating cum laude from Wooster College, Sophia also taught high school English and Latin classes at Wooster High School. She was serious and dedicated in her work, but like her father, had trouble disciplining her students.

In order to better prepare for missionary work, Sophia Lyon left her teaching position to work part time with the Student Volunteer Movement as a traveling secretary. She was called upon to speak publicly about her faith and to interview young people who were trying to discern their calling to the evangelical missions. She broadened her understanding of other Christian denominations during this time and learned much about the cultures into which the missionaries were being sent. No doubt, these times led her to examine her own religious beliefs and vocational desires.

In 1901, Sophia Lyon accepted a part-time position as a YWCA secretary for the women students of the University of Chicago. She enrolled in two scripture classes after being encouraged by her sister Abbie and brother-in-law Henry Burton Sharman. Sharman, who earned a Ph. D. in New Testament from the University of Chicago Divinity School, had a great impact on Sophia Lyon's developing theology, especially on her studies of the historical Jesus (Hunter 1966, 44).

Sophia Lyon studied the new methods of higher criticism in biblical studies with William Rainey Harper in an Old Testament course and with Ernest Burton DeWitt in a New Testament course. These courses would have lasting impact on her understanding of the bible and its place in the religious education of children (Nolan 2004b, 253).

On June 14th, 1902, Sophia Lyon married Charles "Harvey" Fahs. The young couple moved to Morningside Heights, New York, where "Harvey" was employed as an editor of Methodist missionary materials while he and Sophia awaited assignment to the missionary field. In 1902, Sophia Lyon Fahs directed her energies toward earning a master's degree in elementary education at Teachers College of Columbia University. There she studied under Frank McMurry who introduced her to the ideas of John Dewey and the newly formed Religious Education Association. Under McMurry's influence, Fahs determined that the religious education of children would become the focus of her work. She became involved in the experimental Sunday School at Teachers College where she found fertile soil for experimenting with her burgeoning ideas on the religious education of children.

Even though Fahs became acquainted with Dewey's progressive ideas, her final thesis on missionary biography as a way of introducing biblical themes to children was written from a definite "vantage point of evangelical Christianity." The missionary movement and her evangelical upbringing still heavily shaped her thought. The energy and idealism of the period and a total commitment of energies toward working for the transformation of the world would not subside in her length of days. Though three of her siblings became missionaries, Sophia would not realize that dream. In later years, Fahs would become critical of the claims of Christian supremacy inherent in some missionary tactics of the time.

New currents of thought, including insights from the new science of psychology, modern practices of pedagogy, findings of critical and historical scholarship as applied to the Bible, and the understanding religious education were emerging at the turn of the century. Such intellectual and social ideas were nowhere more prevalent than in New York City. It was there that Fahs would come into contact with the liberal progressive ideas that were finding their voice in the new Religious Education Association under the leadership of William Rainey Harper and George Albert Coe. The religious imagination of Sophia Lyon Fahs was like a sponge absorbing both the new liberal theology and progressive philosophy of education.

Over the course of the next twelve years of her married life, Fahs bore five children (three of whom survived), earned a Master of Arts degree in elementary education at Teachers College, Columbia University (1904), found her vocational calling as a religious educator of children and continued to form her increasingly liberal theology (Parke, 258-260). While Fahs' theology at that time was still firmly rooted in evangelical theology, the work of John Dewey fascinated and motivated the young woman to pursue the study of the religious education of children.

Liberal theology also took hold of her imagination and never let go. This was the theology that was behind the founding of the Religious Education Association and it was the theology that would color Fahs' philosophy of religious education. Reactions against the "uneducational" evangelical techniques for the transmission of faith, the necessity of emotional conversion experiences, and the literal interpretation of scripture were strong elements of both the liberal theology of Fahs and of the religious education movement.

After completing her graduate education at Teachers College, Fahs took some off from her studies to raise her family, but kept up with her profession and its literature. When the opportunity arose for her to study religious education at Union Theological Seminary, she jumped at the chance. Liberal theology marked by modernism was vibrant and alive at the Seminary as was the new religious education. Fahs was more than likely attracted by the experimental Union School of Religion that had superseded the Sunday school at Teachers College where she had previously taught.

At the age of forty-eight, Sophia Lyon Fahs decided to pursue a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary. "I decided I must have a theological education. I wanted to have the same education ministers have, because I want to understand the things that they understood" (Parke, 271). Not only did Fahs study at UTS with such notable professors as George Coe and Harrison Elliott, by 1924 she was asked to join the faculty of the Union School of Religion and shortly thereafter was named Elementary Supervisor.

It was an exciting time for a woman who was ready to devote herself fulltime to the "new philosophy" of the religious education movement. It was also a time of conflict in theological thought that had its origins as early as the end of the nineteenth century. Union Theological Seminary was the "hotbed of the Social Gospel" and modernist thought and Sophia Lyon Fahs was in total sympathy with it (Hunter 1966, 157).

At Union, Fahs studied with many great teachers of theology, church history and religious education. Her B.D. thesis, "Certain Problems Involved in Building a Curriculum in Religious Education," reflected her newly formulated progressive liberal ideas.

Fahs' years at Union Theological Seminary (1923-1926) coincided with the height of progressive modernism and liberal theology. George Albert Coe, formative theorist of progressive, liberal religious education who had originally developed the courses in religious education for theological students, had just a year earlier left the UTS faculty. Union Theological Seminary supported the basic tenets of the Social Gospel Movement during Fahs' years of study. Already a follower of the historical emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, Fahs saw the social and moral imperatives of Jesus' teachings as the basis of her understanding of the gospel message. Like the movement's founder, Walter Rauschenbusch, Fahs thought the Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke was of this world and to follow Jesus meant to act for its social reconstruction. By the year 1928, this theology was being challenged by new theological developments at Union Theological Seminary.

In the fall of 1926, Henry Sloane Coffin became President of Union Theological seminary and invited a young, liberal social gospel preacher he heard speak in 1923 to join the faculty. The young man's name was Reinhold Niebuhr and by the end of the decade some real changes in Protestant theological thought were becoming evident. World War I, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression left the country ready for a change. Edith Hunter wrote of this period:

The spirit of optimism that so often accompanied the efforts of the advocates of liberal Social Gospel was sadly inappropriate to the times… . The economic depression and an increasingly ominous threat of social and international discord provided the abyss and Union Theological Seminary was providing the seedbed of an alternative theology. (168)

The alternative theology was Neo-orthodoxy and Reinhold Niebuhr, along with Paul Tillich, became its leading spokesperson in the United States. While maintaining much of his liberal outlook in social action, Niebuhr became a leading critic of liberal theology.

The new theology sought to redefine the truth of Christian salvation history-a story that Fahs and other liberal theologians had come to see as so historically conditioned that it could no longer contain the scope of what they considered God's plan for the salvation of a world community. Neo-orthodox theologians saw the Social Gospel message and liberal theology as impotent in the face of the desperate situation in the world.

Fahs thought neo-orthodox thinking was too close to the evangelicalism of her childhood that she had long since outgrown. While recognizing the validity of some of its critique of liberalism, Fahs was never swayed by neo-orthodox theology. To observers it seemed that she was aloof to the theological storms going on about her. Fahs was well aware of what was going on, and she feared the new theology was a return to the days of authoritative absolutism.

By 1926, Sophia Fahs had earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary. She was offered the position of principal of the prestigious experimental Union School of Religion and a year later became one of the first two women invited to lecture at the institution, the other being Mary Ely Lyman. Fahs' years at The Union School of Religion (1924-1929) and Union Theological seminary (1926-1944) were spent pursuing her increasing liberal insights into religion and religious education. In 1933, a few years after the Union School of Religion closed, she became affiliated with the liberal pulpit of Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church as a School of Religion faculty member where she continued to work experimentally with her evolving ideas about the religious education of children (Hunter 1966, 162).

In 1930 the official Unitarian newspaper, The Christian Register, reported discontent with their present Sunday school curriculum (Hunter 1966, 180). It was through the efforts of one of Fahs' students that she was introduced in 1931 to the Unitarian committees that were working to develop a new curriculum to follow in the lineage of the denomination's previous series, namely the Beacon Series (1909) and the Beacon Course (1915). As a result of these committees, the Beacon Units (1935) were published.

From 1937 until 1964 Fahs served as Editor of Children's Materials for New Beacon Series in Religious Education. Fahs began this new work when she was sixty one years old and did not fully retire until 1964 at the age of eighty-eight. She received international attention for her work with the Unitarians and was ordained into Unitarian ministry in 1959. In typical fashion, Sophia Fahs used the occasion to speak of the need for further progress in religious education. In 1965, she wrote her last book, Worshipping Together with Questioning Minds.

Sophia Lyon Fahs died in 1978 leaving behind a strong legacy for religious education.


Contributions to Christian Education

The contributions of Sophia Lyon Fahs to the field of religious education are numerous and far reaching. Fahs' work contributed to such developments in religious education as classroom experimentation with curricula prior to publication, development of teacher's guides, use of evaluation techniques, and recognition of and training for religious educators (Parke, 1965). Certainly, her natural theology and belief in the Bible as one sacred text among many singled her out from other Protestant educators of the day. Her concern over the point at which to begin Bible study with children was shared by many and she stood courageously for delaying it until the ages of eight or nine.

Perhaps the strongest and most pervasive tenet of Sophia Lyon Fahs contributions to religious education was her belief that the natural development of religious sentiments in children ought to be correlated with their emotional and psychological development (Nolan 2003, 459). She wrote, "We have become convinced that as a result of the very nature of life, small children have emotional experiences that are the seeds of religious sentiment and that the natural way of spiritual guidance would begin with these experiences and let the larger understandings grow slowly … (Fahs 1952, 53, 57). For Fahs, nurturing the religious sensibilities of children was the single most important responsibility of the family, church and society-one that would lead to a peaceful, world-wide "brotherhood" and the ultimate salvation of the human race.

The vast contribution of Fahs to the body of literature on nurturing children and preparing them to live in peace and harmony in an increasingly religiously pluralistic world cannot be overestimated in significance. Books written on religious myths and stories from all religious traditions throughout the history of humankind are meant to help children better understand their own beliefs and become conversant with others about theirs. Titles such as The Church Across the Street (1947, 1962), From Long Ago and Many Lands (1950), and Old Tales for a New Day (with Alice Cobb, 1980, 1992) are written to be read to children or for children to read themselves. The underlying premise is that children should grow in knowledge of their own religion in light of other religions from the beginning. To wait until they are older before beginning a comparative study of religion is too late because children are already living and going to school with children of other faiths.

Another major contribution to Christian religious education was Sophia Lyon Fahs' articulation of an imminent danger of the church losing its young members due to conflicting methodologies used in religious education and science (Nolan 2004b, 265). She wrote extensively on the need to harmonize the findings and processes of the sciences with religious teachings. Fahs was more likely to quote scientists in her writing than theologians and in many of her talks and journal articles she expressed a desire to reconcile the methods of science and theology (Nolan 2004a, 99).

The conflict of processes in science and religion leads to both intellectual and emotional difficulties for the child attempting to connect what is being taught at school with what is being taught by the church. Youth, in their advanced level of scientific study, need teachers of religion who are well qualified to assist them in dealing with such conflicts.

Delivering The Rufus Jones Lecture in 1960, Fahs spoke of foreseeing, "young people rejecting religion in increasing numbers" and "the moral foundations of our society crumbling" if religions are not reformed "in light of advancing knowledge, they will become sterile" (Fahs, 1960, p. 15). She believed adults should be honest in their dealings with youth, avoiding pat answers and promoting authentic dialogue between science and religion. Claims of having all the answers and passing on religious ideas no longer held as true could be detrimental to the future of the church. The necessary antidote was a new type of church school, one that nurtured its young and placed their education at the very center of church mission.

Connected to this concern for harmonizing science and religion, Sophia Lyon Fahs also foresaw problems arising from an outmoded biblical cosmology and sought to reconstruct her own theology on the basis of the latest scientific views on the nature of the universe. She devoted an entire chapter in her treatise on philosophy of religious education to the topic. She observed:

To build the beginnings of faith in God on a conception of the universe that our generation no longer regards as true is to prepare the way for a loss of respect for the Bible; and what is worse, to court a cynical atheism when the child is old enough to learn for himself. (Fahs, 1952, p.106)

The topic is later treated by Unitarian minister, Shirley Ranck, who noted three aspects of biblical cosmology that seemed especially troublesome to Fahs. Those were: 1) the idea that creation was completed in the past; 2) the idea that there exists a dualism between the natural and the spiritual worlds that clearly elevated the latter over the former; and 3) the idea that the cosmos is controlled by a God who "uses the forces of nature as a means of moral discipline" (Ranck, 1990, pp. 34-35). Fahs, Ranck aptly noted, saw these three outmoded beliefs as the root of much of what ails the modern world. Fahs believed humankind was called to cooperation with the universe, rather than domination. An outdated cosmology led to a fragmented world-view. Ranck summarized Fahs' thought when she wrote: "Fahs suggested that the divisive authoritarian structures that pervade our society and dominate our thinking are rooted in the biblical cosmology and morality" (Ranck, 1976, p. 605).

Another contribution is Fahs' call to church leaders and religious educators to be courageous and adventurous in the work of reconstructing traditional religious symbols, expressions and myths for modern times. "The way of searching for new and truer insights … is a way that calls for a courageous, creative adventure, involving much sharing of knowledge and experience" (Fahs, 1955, p. 135). "There is fear lest, in improving the structure, the foundations may be blasted. Emotional tensions run high…. Everyone, in a measure, must be a theologian" (Fahs, 1952, p. 96).

That religious organizations were so highly resistant to change was due to the emotional nature of religion itself. Fahs observed:

While we may easily discard our fathers' quill pens, their gay waistcoats and their stage coaches, we cling tenaciously to their religious faith …. We can with more difficulty, change our family patterns, our economic and social organization, and our racial attitudes; but to change our religious beliefs touches us at the deepest levels of life and demands profound adjustments, often extremely painful to make. (Fahs, 1952, p. 5)

The religiously minded adult is responsible to the future generation. Fahs hoped that religious educators would come forth from the new generation and that they would have the courage necessary to directly face the controversies between continuity and change in the church.

An important dimension of Fahs' theology and a timely contribution to today's religious education is in the area of religious pluralism. Fahs believed that from the youngest years and throughout life, the study of the religions of humankind not only enhanced the understanding of one's own religion but also led to a greater sense of connectedness among people of all religions. The world community, she felt, must seek to understand and accept various religious traditions as validation of humankind's common search for the divine in diverse, but life-enhancing ways. Fahs noted:

Our common living room is now the whole earth. Whether we will or no, our neighbors are on the other side of the globe as well as next door. In the light of this spaciousness in our exchanges, we find it unseemly to imagine ourselves superior. The realities of our shortcomings are all too easily observed by other nations and groups. Nor can we arrogate to ourselves an exclusive religious revelation. The Scriptures of other religions are easily accessible to every scholar. Any one group today that tries to dominate the whole world by its ideology or by military might, or by force of any kind, will eventually win only the hatred of those who are put under its power. (1952, p.150)

Not only does such a broadening of perspective open the possibility for world community, it deepens the appreciation of one's own religious tradition and beliefs. In a chapter entitled, "What Shall Children Study?" Fahs wrote:

Modern youth growing up in our modern world needs to find much more understanding of the world's religious history than has been allowed to any previous generation…. Indeed, the values in one's own religious heritage can never be understood or fairly appraised until one is able to compare his own with others. (1952, p. 184)

Another profoundly prophetic insight of Sophia Lyon Fahs concerned the need for a holistic creation theology. Fahs' deep respect and love for the natural world is reflective of her belief in God's immanence and the revelatory capacity of the universe. The study and appreciation of nature were emphasized in religious education curricula written and edited by Fahs. In A New Ministry to Children she poetically wrote of the complex relationship between humanity and the universe:

The Universe has been struggling through a long evolution. We are the fruits of her millions of years of labor. Our flesh is the evolved dust of the stars. Our very life is dependent upon the continuing life and death of other creatures. Without the common green world of grasses and grains we should quickly perish. Our indebtedness is a heritage that links us to all living and nonliving things from the beginning of time. The Living Universe does not ask us to accept things as they are. She challenges us to join in creating better things. She asks us to help her improve. In our pride of human superiority, we have sometimes been disdainful of the values in things of a so-called lower order. We have talked of subduing the forces of nature to serve our ends. The Living Universe calls us to understand, to appreciate, to co-operate-rather than to conquer. An exclusively human ethic is narrow. (Fahs, 1945, p. 7)

To imagine that creation was complete and that the world was for the explicit use of humanity was inconceivable to Fahs. Nature was a pervasive and essential aspect of her curricular materials for children. God's wonders and the mysteries of life and death were to be learned through a child's experiences with the created world.

Fahs gave voice to another cause close to her heart in a sermon she delivered at her own ordination. This concern reverberated through the years in her teaching and writing, most profoundly in her last article for Religious Education, written when she was ninety-five years old. The central subject of concern for Fahs was the need to improve the quality of religious education for the young. The field of religious education, she believed, must seek the brightest and best of young teachers and professionally prepare them, and seminarians as well, to nurture the religious sensibilities of children. Fahs believed "that all theological seminaries and institutions for the development of religious leadership must give more attention to children." She continued:

I believe that during the past as well as today Christian churches have been neglecting the children, even though Sunday Schools have been growing in size and equipment; and few theological seminaries give the education of the ministers to children their whole-hearted interest and respect…. At present it takes a very strong purpose and a willingness to sacrifice prestige for a man or a woman to enter the field of the religious education of the young. Ministers in preparation should be helped to feel more keenly the critical importance of the children. (Fahs, 1971, p. 458)

Fahs understood the task of her vocation as "reconstructing the processes and the content of the religious education of children in light of mankind's growing understandings" (1971, p. 458). She proposed that the study of elementary religious education be a part of all liberal churches' seminary programs. The religious education of children is today a vital aspect of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Fahs' voice has not faded away.

One final contribution of Fahs' work that serves as a model for today lies in the very way she chose to live out her life and career as a woman of confidence in a field occupied predominately by men. It never seemed to concern her that she was often the sole woman in a professional gathering. She conducted herself with certainty and assurance as an expert in the field, regardless of the scarcity of women. Before she married she hoped that she might do some great work for God. While she thoroughly loved the challenges of raising her children ("The children were my teachers.") she openly confessed her career ambitions to her husband. At times the demands of home life kept her from writing as much as she would like. Fahs' youngest daughter Lois Fahs Timmins recalled:

My mother was an early feminist and wrote an article on Women's Suffrage before I was born …. Our household chores were not assigned according to sex, but according to our interests and capabilities. Mother fought all her life for equal rights for women. She complained that at Union Theological Seminary the women instructors were paid less than the men instructors, and was almost fired for her protest. Our family deity was not sex-linked …. Today, I have little enthusiasm for the arguments as to whether God is male or female. (Timmins, n.d., p.1)

Fahs would not have identified herself as a feminist nor was she involved in any specifically feminist causes or organizations. While she was determined to raise a family and to have a professional career, Fahs was also "aware of being part of the 'new Age of Women' and she understood her right to a higher education and a career" (Ranck, 1990, p. 29). Hunter quotes a letter Sophia wrote to her future husband: I am too ambitious to serve the women of some heathen land, to be a nonentity for the direct work of foreign missions that some wives seem to be. I am too ambitious to give my life in direct foreign missionary work, to give twenty years of the strength of my life in service at home as my mother has done. Such lives count a great deal, but I long for the other. (1966, p. 42)

In "A Feminist Look at the Theology of Sophia Lyon Fahs" (1990), Shirley Ranck culled out many feminist themes in Fahs' thought. Specifically, Ranck noted that at an early point, Fahs connected patriarchal scripture with an exclusively masculine image of God. Perhaps Ranck was referring to the following passage from Fahs' The Old Story of Salvation:

The biblical records all came out of a type of culture that was autocratic and patriarchal. The father in the household, the chieftain of the tribe, and the head of the nation-all ruled in their respective circles with an iron hand. Even the father expected absolute obedience from his children, and had to the power of life and death over them. It would have been unthinkable in those times for men in such a culture to think of God in any other way than as lawgiver and judge. It is indeed only very recently that this general conception of relationships in the home and in the nation has been questioned or much changed. Even now the authoritarian pattern in home, society and government is far more prevalent than the more flexible, mutually-respecting pattern of democratic relationships. (Fahs, 1955, p. 135)

Sophia Lyon Fahs is remembered today as one of the leading women pioneers in the field of religious education. Though her focus was on the religious education of children and not on the various social movements of her day, Fahs was not unaware of her impact as a woman on the field (Nolan 2006, 167). At her ordination ceremony, Fahs remarked:

Even though I am glad that the feminist element in this ordination has not been primary, I find an exhilaration tonight in being a woman and in being able therefore to act as a kind of representative of all the other women who are now ministering faithfully week by week in our liberal churches. (Fahs, 1959)

Sophia Lyon Fahs left a remarkable legacy to the field of Christian religious education that includes these and many other contributions. She remains a key figure for Unitarian Universalist religious educators, yet her influences cross denominational boundaries. She sought reform in children's religious education everywhere and knew that such reforms required "no less than the noblest and most courageous efforts of all those concerned with the religious growth of children" (Nolan 2006, 154). At the end of her long career she continued to put forth questions about the nature of religious truths, the adequacy of church school structures in handing on religion and how art as a way of knowing fits into religious education (Hunter 1966, 258-259). Her life and work reflected the depth of meaning that these sorts of questions held for her.

Works Cited

  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1945). A new ministry to children. Boston: American Unitarian Association.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1952). Today's children and yesterday's heritage; a philosophy of creative religious development. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1955). The old story of salvation. Boston: Starr King Press; distributed by the Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1960). Why teach religion in an age of science? The Religious Education Committee Friends General Conference.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1971). The future of religious education. Religious Education, 66, 457-459.
  • Nolan, Lucinda A. (2003). Together with questioning minds: Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978). Religious Education 98 (4), 454-470.
  • (2004a). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A theology and philosophy of transformative Religious education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Fordham University, NY. Retrieved August 3, 2009, from Dissertations and Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 3142872).
  • (2004b). Seeing what is not there yet: Sophia Fahs, entelechy, and the Religious Education Association. Religious Education 99 (3), 247-271.
  • (2006). It takes more than angels: The legacy of Sophia Lyon Fahs to religious education. In G. Durka, et. al. (Eds.), The international handbook of the religious, moral and spiritual dimension in education (p.p.153-169). Netherlands: Springer.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1966). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A biography. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Parke, D. (1965). The historical and religious antecedents of the New Beacon Series in religious education. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1965). Dissertation Abstracts International 26/05, 2897.
  • Ranck, S. A. (1976). 100th birthday celebration for Sophia Lyon Fahs. Religious Education, 71, 603-609.
  • Ranck, S. A. (1990). A feminist look at the theology of Sophia Fahs. Liberal Religious Education, 27-41.
  • Timmins, L. F. The longest Sunday school lesson. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Collection, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Chicago, IL.

Bibliography

Manuscript Collections

  • Harvard Divinity School. Andover-Harvard Theological Library. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, 1903-1968. Autobiographical, biographical, and professional materials.
  • Meadville/Lombard Theological School. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Center for the Study of Religious Education. Special collection of educationally-based materials, 1903-1968.
  • Union Theological Seminary, New York. The Burke Library. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Collection. Private papers, correspondence, articles, news clippings, and biographical materials.
  • Union Theological Seminary, New York. The Burke Library. The Union School of Religion Collection, 1910-1929. Weekly records, annual reports, worship service materials, correspondence, articles, and papers.

Books

  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1907). Uganda's white man of work; a story of Alexander M. Mackay. New York: Young People's Missionary Movement.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1918). Red, yellow and black. New York: The Methodist Book Concern.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Sweet, H. F. (1930). Exploring religion with eight year olds. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1937). Beginnings of earth and sky; stories old and new. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Spoerl, D. T. (1938). Beginnings of life and death: stories old and new. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Hills, V. (1940). Martin and Judy in sunshine and rain: Boston: Beacon Press. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1943). Leading children in worship. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1944). When is a person religious? Boston: American Unitarian Association.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1945). A guide book for Jesus: the carpenter's son. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1945). A new ministry to children. Boston: American Unitarian Association.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Baldridge, C. L. R. (1945). Jesus, the carpenter's son. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1948). From long ago and many lands. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Manwell, E. S. M. (1951). Consider the children how they grow (Rev. ed.).
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1952). Today's children and yesterday's heritage; a philosophy of creative religious development. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1955). The old story of salvation. Boston: Starr King Press; distributed by the Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1959). Developing concepts of God with children. Boston: Universalist Unitarian Council of Liberal Churches.
  • Fahs, S.B. L. (1960). Beginnings: Earth, sky, life, death. Rev. ed. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1965). Worshipping together with questioning minds. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. , Alice Cobb, and Gobin Stair. (1980, 1992). Old tales for a new day: Early answers to life's eternal questions. Buffalo, NY : Prometheus Books.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., and Alice Cobb. (1980). Exploring issues with young people : A manual for parents and teachers for use with Old tales for a new day : Early answers to life's eternal questions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Articles

  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1906). Missionary biography in the Sunday school. The Biblical World.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Bridgman, R. P. (1925). The religious experience of pupils in the Experimental School of Religion. Religious Education, 20, 101-106.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1926). Has the missionary movement promoted world-mindedness at home? Religious Education, 21, 172-178.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1927). A mother protests. The Christian Century, 44, 590-592.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1928). Changes necessary in elementary religious education due to conflicts between science and religion. Religious Education, 23, 332-338.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1929). How childish should a child's religion be? Religious Education, 24, 910-917.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1930). The beginnings of baby behavior. Religious Education, 25, 896-903.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1932). Should Peter and Peggy pray? Religious Education, 27, 596-605.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1933). 'Units of activity' in religious education as a progressive sees them. Religious Education, 28, 380-385.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1934). Creative teaching of religion. Pilgrim Elementary Teacher.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1939). The religious education of a liberal's child: A symposium. Religious Education, 34, 25-28.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1939). When should come a consciousness of God? Religious Education, 34, 208-215.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1942). Religion in public schools: Values at stake. Childhood Education, 245-251.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1942). When is a child's religion emotionally healthy? Christian Leader.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1944). What should religious education do for children in a war torn world? Religious Education, 39, 293-302.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1950). The beginning of mysticism in children's growth. Religious Education, 45, 139-147.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1953). Character: The key to a good life. Parents' Magazine.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1956). Adventures in spiritual discovery. National Parent Teacher Magazine.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1959). Growth both wide and deep. The Unitarian Register.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1960). Comments. Religious Education, 55, 171-173.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1971). The future of religious education. Religious Education, 66, 457-459.

Other Materials

  • Fahs, S. B. L. (n.d.) Some grateful memories of John Dewey. Unpublished photocopy. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1926). Certain problems involved in building a curriculum in religious education. Unpublished bachelor's thesis, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1931). What should be the training of teachers for the pupil centered school? The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L., & Kuebler, E. W. (1939). An open letter to ministers and church school workers. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1943). Important qualities in worthwhile religious education, Philadelphia Ethical Society. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1945). An experience-centered curriculum in religious education. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1945). The report of the Bourne Hall workshop. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1947). A discussion of the report of the committee on theological and educational foundations. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1953). The teaching heritage of Jesus, A talk given at Ferry Beach, ME [Cassette]. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1959). Address to the conference of Sunday school teachers. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1959). When is science study religious education? Division of UA Education.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1960). Why teach religion in an age of science? The Religious Education Committee Friends General Conference.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1963). Unpublished memorandum to the Universalist Unitarian Theology Commission II. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Fahs, S. B. L. (1976). Sharing my journey. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.

Writings about Sophia Lyon Fahs

  • Beck, D. F. (1978). Sophia Lyon Fahs: Militant liberal and lover of children. Religious Education, 73, 714-720.
  • Boys, M. C. (1989). Educating in faith: Maps and visions. New York: Harper and Row.
  • The Bulletin of the Union School of Religion. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • Chandler, D. R. (1989). Sophia Lyon Fahs. Religious Education, 84, 538-552.
  • Furnish, D. J. (1986). Women in religious education: Pioneers for women in professional ministry. In R. R. Ruether & R. S. Keller (Eds.), Women and Religion in America: Volume 3: 1900-1968. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
  • Gudmundson, E. (1956). The theology implicit in the writings of Mrs. Sophia Lyon Fahs. Paper presented at the Greenfield Group of Unitarian Ministers.
  • Harlow, M. S. (1997). Sophia Lyon Fahs: Religious modernist and progressive educator. In B. A. Keely (Ed.), Faith of our Foremothers. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Hicks, J. E. (2001). The life and works of Sophia Lyon Fahs, A study in moral discernment. (Doctoral dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 2001) Dissertation Abstracts International, 62-03, 1061.
  • Holleroth, H. (1966). The New Beacon series in religious education. Boston: Department of Education, Universalist Unitarian Association.
  • Holleroth, H. (1976). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A centennial tribute. Kairos, 7.
  • Hunter, E. F. (n.d.) Sophia Lyon Fahs: Liberal religious educator. Retrieved from http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/fahs.html
  • Hunter, E. F. (1949). Two approaches to the church school curriculum. Religious Education, 44, 3-11.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1950). Jesus: A Unitarian and a Presbyterian interpretation. Religious Education, 45, 341-348.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1956). Call deep thanks. Religious Education, 51, 323-327.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1966). The audacious mind of Sophia Lyon Fahs. The Register-Ledger, 8-10.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1966). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A biography. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Hunter, E. F. (1996). Sophia Lyon Fahs: Leader in universal religious education. Issues.
  • Kathan, B. W. (1972, February 1). Sophia Lyon Fahs is ninety-five: An interview with a pioneer religious educator. UU World, 6.
  • Keely, B. A. (Ed.). (1997). Faith of our foremothers: Women changing religious education. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Keller, R. S. (1981). Lay women in the Protestant tradition. In R. R. Ruether & R. S. Keller (Eds.), Women and Religion in America, Volume 1: The Nineteenth Century (pp. 244-246). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
  • Kimball, N. (1976). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A century of love and commitment. Unitarian Universalist World.
  • Nolan, L. A. (2003). Together with questioning minds: Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978). Religious Education, 98, 454-470.
  • Nolan, L. A. (2004). Seeing what is not there yet: Sophia Lyon Fahs, entelechy and the Religious Education Association. Religious Education, 99, 247-271.
  • Nolan, L. A. (2004). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A theology and philosophy of transformative religious education. (Doctoral dissertation, Fordham University, 2004). Dissertation Abstracts International 65/08, 2940.
  • Nolan, L. A. (2006). It takes more than angels. In M. De Souza (Ed.), International Handbook of the Religious, Spiritual, and Moral Dimensions of Religious Education (pp. 153-169). Dordrecht; London: Springer.
  • Parke, D. (1965). The historical and religious antecedents of the new Beacon series in religious education. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1965). Dissertation Abstracts International 26/05, 2897.
  • Parke, D. (1966). The children were my teachers - A ninetieth birthday tribute. Religious Education, 61, 257-259.
  • Parker, H. H. (1966). Theory and practice in religious education: A case study of the Union School of Religion. (Doctoral dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1966). Dissertation Abstracts International 67, 9452.
  • Ranck, S. A. (1976). 100th birthday celebration for Sophia Lyon Fahs. Religious Education, 71, 603-609.
  • Ranck, S. A. (1990). A feminist look at the theology of Sophia Fahs. Liberal Religious Education, 27-41.
  • Schmidt, S. A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
  • Sophia Lyon Fahs speaks. (1985). Boston, MA: Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • Southworth, D. (2002, June) Sermon. Retrieved from Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation: http://www.nwuuc.org/sermons/DS_2002_0602.asp
  • Sweet, H. F., & Fahs, S. B. L. (1930). Exploring religion with eight-year-olds. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Timmins, L. F. The longest Sunday school lesson. The Sophia Lyon Fahs Collection, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Chicago, IL.
  • Union School of Religion annual bulletin. (1927-1928). The Sophia Lyon Fahs Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
  • West, R. N. (1976). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A century of love and commitment. In N. Kimbal (Ed.), Unitarian Universalist World.

Excerpts from Publications

Fahs, S. B. L., & Manwell, E. S. M. (1951). Consider the children how they grow (Rev. ed.).

The urge of the young child for freedom to grow is as irresistible as the current of a river; within each life are forces mysterious beyond all understanding requiring open channels and free outlets (13). The artificiality of living apart from the out-of-doors seems to deplete men's spiritual resources, and to rob life of much of its elemental ruggedness and native understanding, How strange it is that we have forgotten the possibilities of the out-of-doors for the developing of this strength and for awakening the spiritual sensitivities of children (29).

To think of giving a child religious instruction without knowing the nature of his unverbalized religion which he has already acquired would seem like being concerned with the outside of the cup and platter without any reference to what is within (181).

Fahs, S. B. L. (1952). Today's children and yesterday's heritage; a philosophy of creative religious development. Boston: Beacon Press.

What shall the children study? All that quickens sympathetic imagining, that awakens sensitivity to other's feelings, all that enriches and enlarges understanding of the world; all that strengthens courage, that adds to the love of living; all that leads to developing skills needed for democratic participations-all these put together are the curriculum through which children learn (176). Influences from without and from the past affect the formation of religion; but the life-giving element is within the child and in present experiences. Such a process of achieving religion never ceases. Full maturity is never attained (16).

Whether his religion later on will be wholesome and broad in its sympathies will depend, therefore, not only on the reasonableness and clarity of the ideas taught him, but much more on the degree to which he has, in his early childhood, learned to love and develop a general trust in life. In short, … this emotional pattern of personality … is probably the most significant element that will ever influence his religious growth (46).

We want a whole self, in a world that is undivided and in a cosmos that is unitary. This means enlarging our imaginative picture of Everlasting Arms in whose embrace all may feel secure and live in wholeness (140).

Fahs, S. B. L. (1965). Worshipping together with questioning minds. Boston: Beacon Press.

As leaders we need to strive for a deeper understanding of the motives and emotional biases that the children bring with them to their study of religion. Where are their real interests pointing? What is it they think they are studying? Does "religion" seem relevant to their living or is it some vague burden that was imposed upon them when they were younger, without their consent or understanding from which they would now like to escape? … It is the children themselves, and the children alone, who can supply the really satisfactory motivation (13–14).

During the past fifty years, scientists have been continually disclosing deeper and more extensive levels of energy in immeasurably gigantic and unnumbered galaxies, with matter and energy as two forms of one essence with body and spirit interwoven and inseparable, with time merging into eternity, till the human spirit is awed in reverence beyond all expression. My experience tells me that we live in a century when religion, if it is to survive, must become more realistic within the natural world than it has been in the past (18-19).

We are left with a feeling of the greatness of our unknowing and with the need for a continuing questioning attitude of mind (23).


Recommended Readings

Fahs, S. B. L. (1952). Today's children and yesterday's heritage; a philosophy of creative religious development. Boston: Beacon Press.

This is the definitive text for understanding the religious educational philosophy of Sophia Lyon Fahs. It is a challenge and invitation to all those who teach religion to children to consider their natural development in the development of curriculum and methodologies. Fahs wrote this text as an introductory background to the thinking behind the development of the New Beacon Series curriculum for which she served as children's editor.

Fahs, S. B. L. (1965). Worshipping together with questioning minds. Boston: Beacon Press.

This book was the last written by Fahs and reflects a later, more developed theology. After acknowledging the educators to whom she is indebted, Fahs described the fragmented state of Western culture and calls for creative leadership in society and religious education. Fahs, S. B. L., & Manwell, E. S. M. (1951). Consider the children how they grow (Rev. ed.). This is a text written with Syracuse University child psychologist Elizabeth Manwell. It began as a guide for parents to accompany the popular Martin and Judy storybooks, but ended up an award-winning guide for all parents concerned with their children's development and religious upbringing.

Hunter, E. F. (1966). Sophia Lyon Fahs: A biography. Boston: Beacon Press.

This book is an outstanding biography of Sophia Lyon Fahs written by a close friend and colleague.

Parke, D. (1965). The historical and religious antecedents of the new Beacon series in religious education. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1965). Dissertation Abstracts International 26/05, 2897.

This dissertation includes the full story of Fahs' work with the Unitarians and her years as editor of their childhood curricular materials.


Author Information

Lucinda A. Nolan

Lucinda A. Nolan is retired Assistant Professor of Religious Education and Catechetics, The Catholic University of America. She earned the Ph.D.in Religion and Religious Education from Fordham University in New York. She has taught courses at Lewis University, Santa Clara University, Saint Elizabeth’s College, Sacred Heart University, and Dominican University of California. 

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