The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers  -     By: Stephen J. Stein
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The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers

Yale University Press / 1994 / Paperback

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Product Description

This engrossing 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: the powerful charismatic leaders, the years of maturation and growth before the Civil War, the subsequent decline in fortune, and its adjustments to twentieth-century society.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 576
Vendor: Yale University Press
Publication Date: 1994
Dimensions: 9.2 X 6.2 (inches)
ISBN: 0300059337
ISBN-13: 9780300059335

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Publisher's Description

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.

Author Bio

Stephen J. Stein is professor of religious studies, adjunct professor of history, and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

David Crumm and ReadTheSpirit.com

If you're new to the Shakers and want to delve into the movement's whole history, Stephen J. Stein's book stands up sturdily after more than a dozen years as the standard "must read" volume on the movement.
There are many other books on this movement, its radical concept of sharing leadership between men and women, its graceful furniture and its enduring musical heritage (The famous "Simple Gifts" alone has morphed into countless other forms, including "Lord of the Dance.")
But, to step back and glimpse the entire scope of their movement with clarity and balance, pick up Stein's excellent history.

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