How does what I’ve learned about social utopias, past and present, influence my interpretation of the sources in my seminar paper?

First of all reading Thomas Moore’s Utopia informs a lot of how I understand what an earlier view of utopia in history sounds like rather than a more modern one. I am able to see Oneida as a further version of what Moore imagined. Moreover, the social contract helps with me understand the trade off between individualism and community within society.

Going to Twin Oaks and Jackson Ward gave me a much better idea of planned utopia. This informed me in my sources because I could understood how ideas translated into lived community. In understanding both these areas Oneida seems to be much more isolated than them. Twin Oaks has many businesses ad interacts a fair deal with the outside world. Moreover, Jackson Ward was part of the cityscape. Oneida on the other hand seems more on its own and so having this three way comparison is useful.

When reading China Mievielle you are able to understand just how complicated and problematic imagined worlds can be or the ideas or inspiration to change a world. Attending his lectures and hearing him speak made me understand that process of perfection is a useless endeavour and so one should look at any form of Utopia in its own weird way not seeing it as varying degrees of right and wrong.

All in all everything I have learnt about utopia, past and present has brought me to various analogies within my paper. The greatest idea that has stuck with me is how all of what we have read and studied is in some sense a form of community building.

How does my research address the problem(s) of utopia? What connections could I make with More’s Utopia in my seminar paper?

My research addresses the problem of Utopia in a myriad of ways. Beginning with the book New Heaven, New Earth we see that for an intentional community to be successful a prophet is actually necessary and there a little examples that prove otherwise. This created a problem at Onieda because Noyes was such an astounding prophet that no one cam close to replacing him and he did not choose to elect a successor.

Moreover all the practises at Oneida that were considered extreme can bee seen as the problem of Utopia in that maybe it went too far and allowed no one time to adjust to a completely new world view. For instance complex marriage was such a rejection of family and marriage that it seemed crazy to so many. As well the high regard for women that made Oneida into a near matriarchal society contrasted so starkly with the gender roles of the time. Lastly, community of property was equally a grand idea that had seemed too extreme for some.

Relating Oneida to More’s Utopia is fascinating. The island of Utopia has many similarities and differences to Oneida. For one women are not as well treated in that they are subject to their husbands whereas at Oneida there is no marriage and women are not confined to domesticity. Additionally, slavery is practised in Utopia whereas it is not at Oneida. In the island of Utopia every household has two slaves who are either criminals or immigrants.

Moving on to the similarities. There is no private property at both Oneida and on the island of Utopia. On the island there are public warehouses and no locks on doors as in Oneida where everyone was free to roam from room to room and not accumulate material wealth. Also the island of Utopia has a welfare state as does Oneida in a more local sense whereby everyone is looked after by the whole community.

Finally religion is embraced on the island of Utopia and only atheists are looked down upon but allowed to be. At Oneida a more constricted religion is followed that involves a reinterpretation of Christianity to the earlier forms believing in the the essence of the Spirit forming an structure that has similarities to behaviouralism. This seems understandable given the differing sizes of the communities.

Most importantly the communities both have interdependence embedded within them.

“What are the hierarchies of information in my research. Other than chronologically, how can I organize your research and its claims in a logical way?”

My research can be organised in a logical way that is not just chronological. I start with a broad look at Millenium movements in the 19th century through the book New Heaven, New Earth. This is the logical place to start as it puts Oneida in a historical and cultural context. From then I can hone in.

This then brings me to the Foster background source that lets me explore Noyes and Oneida from a summarising perspective of a writer who has extensive knowledge on the subject. From there I find what is most interesting to me within this. This to me was how religion enfolded with Noyes and informed many of his new practices.

This is when I seek to delve deep into the issue of how Noyes reformulated his interpretation of Christianity. There are four sources that help to bring this together and I am attempting to gather more.

Religion and Sexuality provides a great rendering of the struggles Noyes went through to become enlightened by earlier Christianities and subsequently developed new ideas on how society should be organised.

Logically I then move on to Oneida using the sources Free Love and Feminism, Slavery in Marriage and Bible Communism that all do well in giving a great account of how religion intersected with the practices of Oneida.

With this I am fully able to comprehend how a reimagined Christianity brought many benefits to this intentional community.

Why should anyone care about what I have learned from this research? What makes my findings at all interesting or relevant to this class or to my life as a UR student?

My research is now centered around how Noyes was able to interpret Christianity and how subsequently this understanding was then prefaced into practises at Oneida. This to me is an interesting topic because it shows how religion affects our world view. Noyes was able to become his own kind of Christian through trying to realise heaven on earth. This situates him loosely into the Millenarian movement which is very interesting in itself. The movement can somewhat be characterised as a defiance against religious norms. Anyone interested in religion and the various interpretations of it will hopefully find my work interesting. Moreover, people who are interested in how religion shapes a community will be intrigued.

The practises seen at Oneida were all a result of how Noyes saw the world, grounded in his interpretation of Christianity and so the Bible. I am able to explore how he rationalised a new form of marriage and free love by seeing our modern form of marriage as synonymous with slavery. I am also able to explore how he then created a more harmonious balance between genders in all aspects of life.

People should care about this because it doesn’t mean we are restricted by religion rather we are restricted by the interpretation we ascribe to. In understanding this we begin to realise that our world view is less fixed and therefore we are more upon to change. In understanding that we may have interpreted the Bible wrong in some senses it will may make us more likely to merit Oneida because it provides us with an example of a community that flourished with a new interpretation.

My findings are relevant to this class because I think I have chosen a fairly unique topic that will maybe be interesting for people who find the connection between religion and intentional community fascinating. For me and my life this is important because it gives me a better understanding of how I and others view the world. It leads to me to question some of the assumptions that float about in my head that are maybe grounded in a world view derived in part from religion. Most importantly it makes me realise that nothing is concrete and we are always in need of a new interpretation.

How did this week’s research help me come to my final research question?

A lot of my research has helped me explore my interests and meander between topics. After reading the first Foster source I really enjoyed the style of writing and so I sought out another source from Foster entitled Free Love and Feminism. This delved deeper into how Foster viewed women in society and as part of Oneida.

I thought this would have made me focus my research question onto the issue of women and their role at Oneida but it made me fascinated with Noyes as a person and how he formulated the ideas of Oneida by analysing modern day late 19th century society.

What I got though from the second Foster article was a clear understanding of how Noyes realistically approached the issue of feminism and establishing right relations between he sexes as grounded within his times. I concluded by saying that for Noyes restoring right relations between the sexes always came after achieving religious and social revitalisation.

I also explored other sources on issues Noyes was toiling with. I looked at mutual criticism in the source entitled System of Criticism and how this almost served as a way for Noyes to react against the prevailing culture of limited disclosure. I then looked at a source from Noyes entitled Slavery and Marriage: A Dialogue and began to understand how Noyes was in stark opposition to the modern enactment of marriage thereby replacing it with a system of complex marriage and male continence.

I lastly explored religious revitalisation.I found information on this in the source Bible Communism. What I gleaned from this was that a strict adherence to the Bible was what was stopping Oneida from completely equalising the relations between the sexes.

This lead me to this research question:

How did Noyes seek to interpret Christianity and the Bible and how was this new interpretation essential to formulating the ideas that became practices at Oneida?

What do I find interesting or curious about this group of people? What more do I need to know to situate this community in the problem or concept of utopia?

From reading only the Lawrence Foster source so far I have been able to extrapolate a lot of key information about Oneida. I have begun to understand the multi-faced philosophy of Noyes. He saw our modern form of christianity encouraging less love and egalitarianism and so he advocated for a return to an earlier form of Christianity. He was aware that the kingdom of heaven could be literally realized on earth rather than it being a place we have to get to by the sweat of our proletariat brow.

One of the interesting practises that came into being at Oneida was male continence. This allowed for much more sexual activity because it was really a form of contraception. Men and women vice versa were trained by their older and sometimes post-menopause counterparts to uphold stamina in the sexual arena. This was a way to allow lots of love making without the complications of having kids whilst also training for a more durable and pleasurable experience. Because of this ability for everyone to have more casual love couplings were discouraged. This bred a more communal society as everyone shared not just one person’s body but many.

Another practise was that of mutual criticism. Individuals would be scrutinised by a large group leading to a real understanding of someone’s faults and accolades. Mutual criticism was a way keep the community aware and understanding of all members so as to bring more community.

Noyes was in disregard for individualism. He was keen to eliminate all selfishness and replace it with a care for the community that was grounded in the greater good. Members of the community were not allowed to be confined to any divisive group. This system can be referred to as complex marriage- all loved each other and placed the concerns of community above all else.

Oneida made great strides to break down the arbitrary distinctions between men and women. Women were free to participate in all aspects of community life (religious, economic and social). What helped this was the fact that children were reared communally allowing all members of society to no unfairly be confined to child rearing / domesticity.

The hierarchy at Oneida was that of gendered ascending and descending fellowship. Noyes was surrounded by a few spiritual men that were seconded by a few spiritual women. The less spiritual men were then followed by the less spiritual women. This was still somewhat sexist but in comparison to the outside world the four caste system was much more malleable. Fellowship usually came hand and hand with age and so the elders in turn had a higher status.

The community did well in economic pursuits producing many goods and services for the outside world but doing it in a cooperative, not capitalist, manner. At the time of the breakup all the holdings valued $600,000. Many millions today!

Many factors led to the breakup of Oneida. Leadership is paramount if Intentional Communities are able to achieve longevity. Noyes, sadly was never able to find a successor and so when he began to develop bad health the community began to crumble. Simplistic as it is I believe this to be the defining reason for the downfall.

Oneida can be situated in the problem of Utopia by analysing how when the leadership/authority started to wither, the less supported practices and institutions were able to come to light and be further realised. Noyes was committed to the common values of the community but when when he declined, sexual tensions arose that had come about by the mismatch between complex marriage and a hierarchy of fellowship.

Some observers of Oneida label it as a eugenic community. Fellowship meant status and increased availability of sexual contracts and so the wise, who were usually older, were granted the most pleasure at Oneida. Increasingly, men and women of greater fellowship were encouraged to reproduce with one another as to create spiritual babies.

Young people and community members of lower status felt like lesser members of the community. Young women were also against not being able to have an exclusive sexual relationship.

Therefore, the absence of the leadership of Noyes and the currents of sexual tension that had been exasperated by a furthered hierarchy were two defining factors that led to the breakup. Oneida had become a problematic Utopia but not before it had shown the outside world for two decades how to live a more communal and egalitarian way of life.

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