In comparative religion, a universalist religion is one that holds itself true for all people; it thus allows all to join, regardless of ethnicity. In contrast, ethnic religions, like ethnicity itself, can be determined not just by genealogy, but by geography, language, and other social boundaries. In that sense, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism are universalist religions. Judaism and Hinduism are ethnic religions.
The name Universalism refers to certain religious denominations of universalist religions, which as a core principle adhere to standards and rituals which are convergent rather than divergent, often espousing themselves as alternatives to denominations based on dogmatic or factionalized differences.
In Christian theology, universalism, or universal salvation, is the doctrine that all people will eventually be saved and go to heaven when they die. Some universalists believe that some will endure a limited period of punishment before going to heaven. By doctrine, almost all denominations of Christianity reject universalism as a heresy, although many modern adherents believe in universalism.
Although isolated theologians, such as Origen in the 3rd century, have expressed univeralist positions throughout the history of Christianity, universalism bloomed within post-enlightenment liberal Christianity and became popular on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century. This movement led to the formation of the Universalist Church of America, which later merged in 1961 with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. However, because Unitarian Universalism is officially creedless, no member of that denomination is required to believe in the doctrine of universalism.
Early Universalists in North America include John Murray and Thomas Potter in 1770. The story goes that God told Potter that he was to go and rescue the one swimming from a boat that had hit a sandbar and that this person would be the one he was waiting for. Murray preached to Potter's neighbours and the word spread like wildfire.
Hosea Ballou, who is sometimes called an ultra-universalist, is often recognized as the great theologian of American Universalism, having written thousands of sermons as well as essays, hymns and treatises.
Tentmaker, a Christian ministry which espouses eventual, universal salvation, has several books written at the end of the 19th century online. J.W. Hanson's books are the most thorough and scholarly, as opposed to devotional.
- Tentmakers' scanned books (http://www.tentmaker.org/books/index.html)
Universalism is also used as a synonym for moral absolutism.
Universalism can also mean