Religion, Society, and Utopia in Nineteenth-Century America

Religion, Society, and Utopia in Nineteenth-Century America

Religion, Society, and Utopia in Nineteenth-Century America

Religion, Society, and Utopia in Nineteenth-Century America

Excerpt

Millennial, revolutionary, and utopian religious experiments have been perennial subjects of historical, psychological, and sociological analysis. American sociology has, for the most part, taken a rather one-sided approach which has reflected its preeminent concerns with structure and organization. The wealth of studies examining the social structure and organization of utopian religious communities only routinely makes the connection between theology, sacred history, values, and prophecy and the creation of community organization and social structure. But most have failed to critically examine the role of the community's theology, utopian vision, and prophecy in the failure of such experiments, or to recognize the ideological and theological barriers to utopian religious growth.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter's study of ninety-one utopian communities founded between 1780 and 1860 suggests the importance of religion in forging the commitment so vital to utopian success, but analyzes the communities' failures in terms of deteriorating structural and organizational commitment mechanisms. Certainly the presence of commitment mechanisms is important to explaining the success of utopian experiments, but Kanter takes only perfunctory notice of ideological dynamics of failure. 1 Even the utopian experiments that were "successful" in Kanter's terms—those that survived for at least . . .

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