Adler Dialogue Group

Felix Adler, the founder of the first Ethical Society, shaped the Ethical Movement significantly for its first 60 years, more than a third of the movement’s existence.  We do not revere our founder as anything more than a human being, so his ideas are not dogma in our Societies — though the ideas did contribute to our values and ideas today.

Those who’ve studied family systems know that we are often influenced by events and ideas in our family history, even when we don’t consciously know that.  We’re influenced by that past even when we rebel against it.  Learning about family patterns helps us make choices for the present and future.  Movements are like families in that they, too, are at the root made up of people in relationship.  Understanding the beginnings of our movement can help us grapple with our movement’s present and future.

We can recognize the unique ideas that are still valuable and can shape our future.  We can also recognize ideas that no longer apply or that we today reject, though they may have helped shape the movement – and so understanding these, too, will help us consciously make choices for a different future.

Each session will include one or more essays of Adler’s published works (and some unpublished or lesser-known works), and each session focuses on one area of his thought.

Monthly Topics: click to view
  • November 2022: Adler’s ideas about what an Ethical Society should look like; his purposes and goals in founding Ethical Societies; what he saw as successes or failures as the years passed.  We’ll include his Founding Address (1876) and several essays written after that time, the latest in 1931.
  • January 2023: the concept of worth (rescheduled to Jan 26)
  • February 2023: Adler on race and racism (in honor of Black History Month)
  • March 2023: Adler on women and women’s rights/education/suffrage (in honor of Women’s History Month)
    • This will also be a session in a webinar on Women in Ethical Culture (TBA)
  • April 2023: Adler on the Supreme Ethical Rule
  • May 2023: Adler on democracy
  • June 2023: Adler on atheism and theism
  • July 2023: Adler on death, mourning, legacy

Dialogue: Not Debate or Mere Discussion

We will learn together, from each other. Please be prepared to offer your thoughts to the group, and to listen for understanding to the thoughts expressed by others.  Our goal is not to argue or to simply discuss.  Instead, we want to foster dialogue where, by the end of each session, the understanding of all of us (including dialogue leaders/facilitators) has been enhanced by the exchange of ideas and interpretations.

In each session, we will first try to understand what Adler was thinking and trying to communicate.  After we have done that, we’ll spend time on how and whether the ideas are applicable today, and how we individually react to the ideas.

Please contribute your thoughts to the session and listen for understanding to the thoughts expressed by others.  Speak from your own experience.  We will usually have some structured go-rounds as well as some open dialogue. If we have sufficient enrollment, some dialogue will take place in smaller breakout rooms so all get an opportunity to speak.

Zoom Information

We are holding the sessions via Zoom, to allow participation from many locations.  You’ll receive instructions by email for logging into the reading group, along with a packet of readings, after you’ve registered with your email address.  Any last-minute changes will be communicated to that email address as well.

All Welcome

While the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture is sponsoring this dialogue group, members and friends of any Ethical Society or Unitarian Universalist congregation or humanist group are welcome, as are any others interested in Adler’s thought.


We suggest a donation from $0 to $10 per session.  This helps defray time and production costs.  No one is turned down for not donating!

Readings and Registration

Here is a sample packet. You’ll receive the current and next packet after you register:  Adler Reading Group 2022-11

Register here for the group (you can always cancel later).  You’ll receive a confirmation within 3 days:


Nov 10 2022


7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Zoom Meeting


  • Jone Johnson Lewis
    Jone Johnson Lewis

    Jone Johnson Lewis serves the Society as Leader (clergyperson). She has been an Ethical Culture Leader since 1991, and has been at Riverdale-Yonkers since 2015. She speaks at the Society once or twice a month, bringing together current issues, personal challenges, and ethical ideas.


The Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture is located near the Fieldston Ethical Culture School campus in the Bronx. Click for a map to find directions:

Directions to the Ethical Society

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