Academic journal article Communal Societies

The Influence of Moravian Brethren Religious Thought and Practice on the Development of Camphill Communities

Academic journal article Communal Societies

The Influence of Moravian Brethren Religious Thought and Practice on the Development of Camphill Communities

Article excerpt


From the start, the principal aim of the Camphill Movement has been to build communities in which vulnerable children and adults, many with complex needs, can live, learn, and work with others in healthy social relationships, and it remains so to this day. Each Camphill community, whether in Europe, North America, Africa or Asia, endeavors to create and maintain an environment where the community's economic and social life and its spiritual aspects complement each other. This kind of community has few parallels anywhere, except possibly the Israeli kibbutz, the Communist commune, and some Anabaptist sects in North America (e.g., Hutterites). Camphill communities have a number of distinctive features: (1) they are essentially Christian communities in what is a generally secular society; (2) they are closed communities inasmuch as only those who subscribe to the prevailing belief and value systems can be fully accepted as members; (3) all who live and work in the communities are seen and treated as coequals; and (4) they are not communities that have evolved naturally but are rather artificial creations that can last only for as long as members remain committed to the ideals on which the communities are based. (1) There are now more than one hundred Camphill communities in over twenty countries in Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia, where children and adults with special needs are offered the support they need to develop their potential. This essay will explore the nature and extent of the debt that the Camphill Movement owes to the Moravian Church by focusing on the lives of its two principal architects--Karl Koenig and his wife, Mathilde (Tilla) Koenig. It will also look at the extent to which the Moravian educational model may have helped shape the social pedagogic character of Camphill education and how the spirit of the Moravian Church may have contributed to the development of a number of distinctive Camphill characteristics. The final part of the essay touches briefly on the question of whether Camphill communities have a future. It is suggested that the difficulties experienced by some Camphill communities in recent years may have been self-inflicted.

Karl Koenig

Karl Koenig was born on September 25, 1902, in Leopoldstadt, a Jewish district of Vienna. He was born with two club feet (congenital talipes equinovarus) as a consequence of which, in his early years, he was only able to move around outside by being transported in a small cart and inside by walking with the aid of a Gehstuhl (a device similar to a Zimmer walking frame). Eventually he was able to walk without aids, but he never achieved a normal walking gait. (2) Throughout his childhood and later in life, he did not enjoy good health. He was subject to migraines of sufficient severity that he could be confined to bed for several days at a time. And to the evident distress of his mother, her son also experienced frequent periods of depression. But what is not in doubt is that from a very early age Koenig exhibited a high degree of intellectual precociousness.

Both Koenig's father and his mother were connected with the Jewish community in the city and continued to practice their faith by observing the Jewish festivals. (3) Koenig's paternal grandfather had been a rabbi in Vienna and other ancestors on his father's side had been rabbis in Hungary. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, he had already started to follow his own path, which was leading by degrees out of the Jewish faith. However, it was not until he was eighteen--on April 10, 1921--that he finally left the Jewish religious community.

In 1920, Koenig became a medical student at the University of Vienna, where he graduated in 1927. Medicine seems to have been the preferred career choice amongst many young people in the Jewish population in Vienna at that time. (4) Whilst working as a doctor in one of the large hospitals for children in Vienna, he met Dr. …

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