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Urantia Book Internet School—Study Groups for New Readers

Tim Duffy
Tim Duffy
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Urantia Book Internet School—Study Groups for New Readers

By Tim Duffy of UBIS, academic director, Illinois, United States

Since 1999, Urantia Book Internet School (UBIS) has offered free classes to readers of The Urantia Book who wish to study its content with the help and fellowship of other readers. The first UBIS courses were offered by email. The teacher-facilitator (TF) of the course would send out study questions, and students would answer back with their responses. In 2006 the school moved to a web-based platform. Now TFs could post reading assignments and study questions, students could log in and post their responses to discussion boards, and they could see and comment on one another’s answers.

Over the past two years, video conference technology has moved from a high-end office amenity to a routine feature of daily life for work, social activities, and all forms of education. It has even become commonplace for delivering healthcare services—not to mention almost all forms of commerce. The use of platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and countless others has become as common as (if not more common than) a telephone call.

For many readers of The Urantia Book, the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid adoption of these new technologies have changed the way they read, study, and share their thoughts and questions about the book. The traditional once-a-week, in-person study group was forced to move online. And while we all missed the in-person fellowship that was no longer possible, there is no question that the “new normal” has made it easier for many to participate in study groups or other interactive events. Even with the easing of formal and informal restrictions on gathering, this is still the rule rather than the exception.

Although the written, asynchronous format of UBIS courses has not changed, many TFs have added Zoom sessions to their courses. The opportunity to meet others (virtually) and engage in real-time conversation has generated uniformly positive feedback. We therefore wanted to test offering something (a study group)? that took place fully on Zoom. We did not, however, want to simply move our study questions over to a real-time virtual classroom.

Our standard courses utilize an approach that requires study and reflection, so we landed on testing the interactive waters with a read-and-discuss study group. We also decided to create a study group for newer readers, who might be coming to UBIS more out of a desire to explore than a wish to study a text with which they were already familiar.

In January of this year, we enrolled 11 students from the United States, Canada, Germany, and South Africa in a study group entitled “The Universal Father.” With one exception they were all new to UBIS. Over the course of eight weekly two-hour Zoom sessions, we read and discussed Papers 1 through 5 of The Urantia Book. As the facilitator of the group, I personally found hearing the thoughts and questions of these curious and thoughtful students to be an amazing and fulfilling experience.

As many of you very well know, the opening papers of The Urantia Book introduce us not only to God as a loving father, but the central truths of our universe and our existence—powerful and thrilling concepts that underlie the subsequent papers of the revelation. What a joy it was to see and share with these students the experience of reading and thoughtfully discussing this text for the first time.

It is a testament to the drawing power of the revelation of truth that only a single student dropped out. Of the remaining 10 students, 7 of them went on to enroll in a course in April.

The Urantia Book is unique among the epochal revelations that have been made to our planet. It is a text rather than a person (or persons). Thus we must read and interpret its words in our own minds in order to experience and know it. This can be a solitary endeavor, and indeed, we are told, it must be done by each individual as a part of his or her unique personal religious experience.

In reality, every human being defines religion in the terms of his own experiential interpretation of the divine impulses emanating from the God spirit that indwells him, and therefore must such an interpretation be unique and wholly different from the religious philosophy of all other human beings. 103:1.1 (1129.8)

But we are also told that it is essential to share that personal experience with others.

While your religion is a matter of personal experience, it is most important that you should be exposed to the knowledge of a vast number of other religious experiences (the diverse interpretations of other and diverse mortals) to the end that you may prevent your religious life from becoming egocentric—circumscribed, selfish, and unsocial. 103:1.3 (1130.2)

While this sharing of religious experience is what we have always hoped UBIS would foster, the format of study groups offers us an additional way to further this goal.

With the success of the school’s first study group, we offered one in Spanish during the April trimester. There will be another one offered in English this September. If you are interested in participating, or even helping facilitate a future study group, please email Joanne at [email protected].