The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers

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The Shakers, once a radical religious sect whose members were despised and harassed by their fellow Americans, have in recent years become celebrated--and sentimentalized--for their communal way of life, the simplicity of their worship, their belief in celibacy, pacifism, and equality of the sexes, and not least their superb furniture and handicrafts. This monumental book is the first general history of the Shakers from their origins in eighteenth-century England to the present day. Drawing on written and oral testimony by Shakers over the past two centuries, Stephen J. Stein offers a full and often revisionist account of the movement: their charismatic leaders, the early years in revolutionary New York and New England, the expansion into the West, the maturation and growth of the sect before the Civil War, the decline in their fortunes after the war, the painful adjustments to society Shakers had to make during the first half of the twentieth century, the renaissance of interest after 1950, and the "forbidden topic" within contemporary Shakerism--the conflict between the two remaining villages at Canterbury, New Hampshire, and Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Stein provides many new interpretations of the Shaker experience. He reassesses the role of founder Ann Lee, emphasizes the impact of the western Shaker settlements on the course of the society's history, and describes the variety of cultural enterprises that have obscured the religious and historical dimensions of the Shakers. Throughout Stein places the Shaker experience within the wider context of American life and shows how the movement has evolved to deal with changing times. Shattering the romantic myth that has been perpetuated about the quaint and peaceful Shakers, Stein portrays a group that is factious, practical, and fully human.

The first general history of the Shakers, from their origins in 18th-century England to the present day. Drawing on written and oral testimony by Shakers over the past two centuries, Stein offers a full and often revisionist account of the movement. 57 illustrations.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300059335
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1994
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 574
  • Sales rank: 1,056,613
  • Product dimensions: 8.08 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Pt. 1 A New and Strange Religion: The Age of the Founders, 1747-1787 1
Background 3
Beginnings in America 10
An Apostate's View 15
Ann Lee's Public Ministry: An Insider's View 18
The Teachings of the First Witnesses 25
The Close of the Age of the Founders 32
Pt. 2 The Gathering and Building of the Church: The Establishment of the United Society, 1787-1826 39
The Beginnings of Communitarianism 41
The Ministration of Lucy Wright 49
Expansion into the West 57
The Origins of Shaker Theology 66
The Creation of a History 76
The Consolidation of the Millennial Church 87
The Close of the Formative Period 106
Pt. 3 Too Much of the Wind, Fire, and Earthquake: The Maturation and Revitalization of the Society, 1827-1875 119
A New Generation of Leaders 122
The Economics of Community 133
The Social Situation 148
The Spiritualistic Revivals 165
The Legacy of the Manifestations 184
The Changing Situation 200
The View from the Outside 215
The Closing of the Middle Period 222
Pt. 4 In the Van of an Advancing Host: The Transformation of the Society, 1876-1947 239
Declining Membership and Geographical Retreat 242
The Feminization of the Society 256
The World of Finance Capitalism 272
The Impact of Modern Thought and Life 286
Reconciliation with the World 304
Varieties of Religious Experience 320
The Issue of Decline 337
Pt. 5 I Almost Expect to Be Remembered as a Chair: The Rebirth of Shakerism, 1948 to the Present 355
Waiting for the End 358
The Beginnings of a Shaker Revival 370
Controversy among the Believers 384
The Selling of the Shakers 394
The Ecumenical Shakers 409
The Shaker Myth: A National Treasure 422
Looking to the Future 432
Abbreviations 443
Notes 445
Suggestions for Further Reading 521
Index 525
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