Religion and Utopias
In their works on utopian societies, Plato and More believe that religion is key to the function of a society. They suggest that religious beliefs affect the morality of a society’s members and thus the preservation of the society itself. While Plato believes in “gods” and that society members should strive to attain the Form of the Good, a strict moral code, More believes that although many religious sects can exist in a society, society members should acknowledge one true deity. In the paper, Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia will be analyzed to determine what role they believe religion plays in the overall function of their utopian societies. Then, their ideals will be compared to those of four religious communities that were founded in 18th and 19th century America. These communities were created as “utopian” societies that were founded upon very different religious ideals. The ideals of these American communities, The Shakers, Brook Farm, the Rappites, and The Oneida Community, will be presented to highlight the way in which religious beliefs affect the overall structure and success of the community. Finally, how Plato and More operationalize religion in their utopias will be compared to the way in which religious beliefs were implemented in the four American communities and eventually contributed to their demise.
This paper will look at how important religion is to the creation of Plato and More’s utopias. Next, it will examine whether Plato and More’s religious ideals were realistic or too idealistic to be implemented into an actual society. The Shakers, Brook Farm, the Rappites, and the Oneida Community were American communities that expressed their religious beliefs in different and radical ways for the time period. The similarities and differences between the communities will be discussed. One important question will be examined in relation to each community. How did the practices of each community affect its longevity? Were the religious ideals of these communities too radical for the times? Is it possible for a religious community to continue to function if a core belief is celibacy? Why did all of the American communities ultimately fail? Finally, how can the ideals of these communities be compared to those of Plato and More? Would Plato and More’s communities be successful if their religious ideals were implemented in present day society?
Little research exists on the comparison of Plato and More’s ideas on religion and the ideals of religious communities in 18th and 19th America. Exploring this topic will allow readers to create connections between two of the greatest works of all time and the way in which different religious beliefs of early American religious “utopias” affected their viability. Analyses of the religious ideals of early American “utopias” that failed can provide us information about how to create an actual utopian environment that may succeed. How religious views of a society’s members affect the morality and social structure of the community can also be examined. The study of utopias is still very important today because even though a true utopia is not attainable, if society strives to become better and uses the ideals of Plato and More and the four religious communities, society will be able to function better as a whole.
The concept of utopia is still relevant today because individuals throughout history have been discussing this idea, but have never been able to create a true utopia. Numerous books, articles, and websites will allow me to explore this topic in depth. I own both the Republic and Utopia. Using the library’s website I was able to find five books that I will use as secondary sources for my paper. The books are Brook Farm, Religion and Sexuality, Oneida Community an Autobiography, 1851-1876, and The Cambridge Companion to Plato. In addition, I have found a website that was created by the National Park Service that provides a lengthy description of the four religious communities I will discuss. The short annotated bibliography below gives a more in depth description of the sources I have listed.
Jowett, Benjamin. Plato The Republic. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
This book discusses Plato’s ideas on creating a utopia and how he believes society must be structured and how individuals need to be trained to form his ideal utopia. In addition, it discusses his ideas on religion and what part he believes religion plays in society.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997.
This book discusses More’s ideas on society and how he conceptualizes a utopia. More discusses the island of Utopia where Raphael traveled. He describes Utopia’s way of life and how they live. More also discusses his ideas on religion and what role he believes it plays in society.
Swift, Lindsay. Brook Farm: Its Members, Scholars, and Visitors. New York,
New York: Corinth Books, 1961.
This book describes the Brook Farm community and details how it is structured, the buildings and grounds of the community, the industries of the community, the household work, and the amusements and customs of the community. In addition, the book addresses the school system of the community, its members, and visitors.
Foster, Lawrence. Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
This book discusses the Shaker community. The book explains the origins of Shakerism, early growth of the movement, organizing the movement, daily life among the Shakers, membership, and the spiritual manifestations: crisis and renewal.
Robertson, Constance N. Oneida Community: An Autobiography, 1851-1876.
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1970.
This book discusses the Oneida Community. It goes into detail about where they lived, how they lived and worked, what they believed, their education, their idea of complex marriage, the role women played in the community, and stirpiculture.
Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1992.
This book tells us about Plato’s ideas on religion. It also compares Plato’s religious ideas to the ideas of religion that the Greeks had.
“Utopias in America.” National Park Service, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012