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The Shaker Experience in America

Stephen J. Stein

40 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0300051395 / ISBN 13: 9780300051391
Published by Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticutt, 1992
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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The story of the United Society of Believers. Bookseller Inventory # 9848

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Shaker Experience in America

Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticutt

Publication Date: 1992

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition

About this title


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 perpetuatedabout the quaint and peaceful Shakers, Stein portrays a group that is factious, practical, and fully human.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An unusually comprehensive and eminently readable chronicle of more than two centuries of Shaker life, from its rough beginning in the late 18th century to its diminished yet still significant presence today. In his thoroughness, Stein (Religious Studies/Indiana Univ.) turns first to England, where Ann Lee, founder of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, was born and felt the call that would bring her and others to the US in 1774, hoping to find fertile ground where their religion could take root. Establishing a small settlement near Albany as home base, persistent missionary efforts in New England by ``Mother'' Lee and her followers drew considerable notice, much of it unfavorable. Undaunted by the abuse, the Shakers intensified the task of broadcasting the Shaker message after Lee's death in 1784, with communities arising from southern Maine to Indiana during a period of vigorous growth and accomplishment lasting well into the 1820's. Although the Society continued to prosper, retrenchment and losses to apostasy increased in the second half of the century as many found fault with the severe work ethic and celibacy requirement or were lured away for other reasons. Never entirely self-sufficient, Believers put their hands-to-work philosophy to use by making and selling various products--everything from seeds to furniture--but dwindling numbers resulted in ever fewer hands. One by one, groups were consolidated and properties sold, until by 1925 only six sites remained. But with a resurgence of interest in the Society's spiritualism and its products, both an active community and a ``world of Shaker'' remain today--so, Stein says, a future may still exist for them both. Clear and well-researched: an invaluable history for those interested in one of the more fascinating forms of the American religious experience. (Fifty-seven illustrations--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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