Communal Utopias in America

From one perspective, these communal religions seem marginal to the American story. They have typically existed at the fringe of society, attracted only a tiny minority of America’s population, and formed countercultures to the American mainstream. For most contemporary Americans, communalism conjures up images of Shaker historic communities, hippie communes, or the traces of communalism that remain in modern American material culture—Oneida silverware, Shaker furniture, and Amana appliances. Nevertheless, throughout American history, these groups have captivated, bemused, and infuriated the broader public. Their efforts have provoked deep controversy as they questioned some of the most fundamental ideals of society—private property, capitalism, republican government, traditional gender roles, mainstream clothing and diet mores, and monogamous marriages. This course will examine attempts to implement utopias and communal societies in the American past and present. We will pay particular attention to nearby New Harmony, the site of two utopian experiments in the early 1800s


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

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