Several of my books and articles focus on utopian, intentional communities. These consist of people who have come together to build communities with a common vision. Their mutually-held goals often are labeled “utopian”—by definition both perfect and unattainable. Because these goals are forever beyond reach, many use the word “intentional” rather than “utopian” to label them. Whether defined by themselves or others, these fascinating groups differ from those around them in their beliefs and daily practices.
These “intentional communities” share four defining and distinguishing characteristics, according to Professor Timothy Miller (University of Kansas). In addition to sharing a vision, the members live in close proximity to one another. They share economic or material goods. And they consist of at least three adults who are not biologically related.
Tensions Today and in Years Past
Whether existing today, such as the earth-centered Federation of Damanhur in Italy’s Piedmont region, or considered radical in the past, such as colonial America’s Quakers, each group’s shared visions unified members only to a degree. As my publications demonstrate, the visions also produced friction and tension. Of course, members sometimes struggled with outsiders as they attempted to live by their ideals. But they also wrestled with one another while determining their ideals within the communities.
A Few Examples
The examples are plenty, but here are only a few. When Shaker leaders introduced dietary restrictions into communities in the 19th century—calling for an end to tea, coffee, and cider consumption—controversy erupted. Not all habitual users were happy about “cold turkey” changes in their preferred beverages. In the 18th century, Elizabeth Ashbridge endured verbal and physical abuse as she was drawn to join the Quakers. Her husband, an “outsider,” was her chief persecutor as she became active in the faith. Even during recent years, as Damanhur has become more integral to politics of the Italian valley where it exists, some members have left with complaints about financial and emotional control and lack of freedom.
Additional insights to utopian, intentional communities and practices as I teach and write about them will be posted here. Check back, or contact me for more information.
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