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Shakers Utopian Community

Richard Goff


The most durable utopian communities have been those motivated by faith. Since the Rule of St. Benedict in AD 540, Christian communalism has provided a relatively effective model that fuses a sense of mission and social justice with practical economic decision-making. In the United States, Christian utopian communities have typically been millennial in orientation and have derived their communal values from the New Testament, specifically Acts 2:44–45, which states “And all who believe were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” Beyond this ascetic communalism, Christian utopian experiments vary dramatically in their interpretation of the gospel and in their mission. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearance (Shakers) is widely recognized as one of the more successful utopian communities. Practicing strict celibacy and communal living, the group boasted nearly 4,000 members and 18 communities by 1850. Although the Shakers have significantly diminished in number, Shaker socialism continues to attract public and scholarly attention. The political and religious turmoil of the late eighteenth century provided the context for the establishment of the Shakers. Their founder, “Mother” Ann Lee, an English mystic and evangelical preacher, believed that the world was overrun with sin, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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