America's Communal Utopias

America's Communal Utopias

America's Communal Utopias

America's Communal Utopias


"Brings into sharp focus a hitherto ill-mapped stretch of American social-history terrain. "From The Foreword By Paul Boyer

A comprehensive look at the religious and secular movements that produced America's most noted communal utopias

From the Shakers to the Branch Davidians, America's communal utopians have captured the popular imagination. Seventeen original essays here demonstrate the relevance of such groups to the mainstream of American social, religious, and economic life. The contributors examine the beliefs and practices of the most prominent utopian communities founded before 1965, including the long-overlooked Catholic monastic communities and Jewish agricultural colonies. Also featured are the Ephrata Baptists, Moravians, Shakers, Harmonists, Hutterites, Inspirationists of Amana, Mormons, Owenites, Fourierists, Icarians, Janssonists, Theosophists, Cyrus Teed's Koreshans, and Father Divine's Peace Mission.

Based on a new conceptual framework known as developmental communalism, the book examines these utopian movements throughout the course of their development -- before, during, and after their communal period. Each chapter includes a brief chronology, giving basic information about the group discussed. An appendix presents the most complete list of American utopian communities ever published.


America's Communal Utopias, a welcome and much-needed book, brings into sharp focus a hitherto ill-mapped stretch of American social-history terrain. in some respects, of course, fragments of the story told here are already well known. As long ago as 1944, after all, Alice Felt Tyler published her engaging and readable account of many of these groups--along with much else--in a popular work called Freedom's Ferment: Phases of American Social History from the Colonial Period to the Outbreak of the Civil War. Most Americans probably know something about the Shakers; many have visited restored Shaker settlements or admired reproductions of Shaker furniture. Thanks to the composer Aaron Copland, the Shaker song "The Gift to Be Simple" has become almost as familiar--not to say clichéd--as the dour farm couple immortalized by Grant Wood in American Gothic.

Many, too, have heard of John Humphrey Noyes and his Oneida community, around which swirl titillating (and wildly distorted) tales of sexual experimentation and "free love." the word "phalanstery" echoes dimly in the penumbra of some Americans' cultural awareness. Brook Farm is remembered, too, for its connections with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. the Amana Colonies of Iowa are a major tourist attraction, their name preserved in a line of appliances found in many American homes. Historians and antiquarians keep alive the memory of Robert Owen and his utopian New Harmony venture in Indiana. in more recent times, "hippie" communes and various communal ventures loosely linked to the amorphous New Age movement have attracted attention--sometimes admiring, often puzzled and disapproving.

In short, when the American communal tradition is remembered at all, it tends to be in a confusing and disjointed fashion, as free-floating bits of cultural ephemera. Isolated communities or movements are rarely seen as . . .

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