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Shakers: United Believers in Christ's Second Appearing

The following is an assignment for a Religious Studies class -- RS 153 "End of the World". For more links to Christian and Biblical topics click here. To return to my personal page click here.

The Shakers, or the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, is a celibate millenarian sect that established communal settlements in the United States beginning in the 18th century. Founder Ann Lee, or "Mother Ann" as her followers call her, had a series of personal revelations after which she regarded herself as the female aspect of God's nature. However, Shakers tend to be quite flexible about doctrine, and there are different theological perspectives on Mother Ann's status. The basic teaching of the sect included: (1)the dual nature of God, male and female; (2)that the millennium had arrived with the advent of Mother Ann Lee; (3) the establishment of a perfect society; (4)a communal lifestyle that included celibacy, separation from the world, and public confession of sins.

By 1826 there were 18 Shaker villages in the U.S., but the sect gradually began to decline. There are eight Shakers currently active, one a recent convert, at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. Other Shaker villages exist largely as museums, pointing up the lovely, simple handicrafts for which the Shakers are famous.

Books:

Stein, Stephen J. The Shaker Experience in America 1992 Yale University

This is a classic history of the Shaker movement, from its beginnings in England to the present day. It takes the reader past the idealised picture the Shakers present of their history to a history that is very real and human. The book shows how, in spite of their "separation" the Shaker communities were very much influenced by their interactions with "the world". It also shows how they were not always free from conflicts within and between communities. A must-have for the reader wishing to understand the Shaker movement.

Taylor, Leila S. and White, Anna Shakerism: It's Meaning and Message 1904 Columbus

This turn-of-the-century work is the last major apology for Shaker teaching that was ever published. It was interesting not only because it lays out the history and teachings of the Shakers in an appealing fashion, but because it was so clearly marked by the progressive spirit of many religious movements of the time.

Whitson, Robley Edward, ed. The Shakers: Two Centuries of Spiritual Reflection 1983 Paulist Press

This collection is part of a series of books called The Classics of Western Spiritualisty It contains many writings by Shaker elders that are considered "inspired". A great book for going "to the source" and seeing the evolution of Shaker belief.The "Shaker Manuscript" website in the links below is another wonderful place for finding Shaker literature.

Articles:

The Last Seven Shakers in the World Economist 2/13/99 Vol.350 Issue 8106 p.31

This is a rather nostalgic description of the Sabbathday Lake community. The emphasis here is on the Shakers' history and simple lifestyle rather beliefs. The community is wistfully described as "an endangered species". This article is long on sentiment, but rather short on information.

Nartonis, David K. and Thompson, Bryan Seeking God in a Harried Life Christian Science Monitor 2/26/98 Vol. 90 Issue 63

This is a book review of Suzanne Skees' God Among the Shakers: A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake. Skees is a Harvard Divinity School graduate who found the end of her spiritual quest with the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community. The book looks at a modern-day spiritual journey more than the historical Shakers.

Starbuck, David R. New Perspectives on Shaker Life Expedition 1998 Vol. 40 Issue 3 p. 3

This article is by an archaeologist who has studied Shakers at Canterbury Village since 1977. The community there is now a museum; the last active Shaker died in 1992. Starbuck has unearthed some suprising things about Shaker culture, including the fact that they were not much different from their neighbors in terms of their material culture. The article also includes a good brief history of the Shakers and the community at Canterbury.

Shaker Links

Canterbury Shaker Village
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
Shaker Manuscripts On-Line
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill