Course Name: Peace, Love, and Groovy Times: Utopian Communities and the need to Belong
Instructor: Maurice Manning
In 1516 Sir Thomas More wrote of an imaginary island where the government, the economy, and the society all worked perfectly. No worries, no problems. He called the island Utopia. The idea of a perfect community has been around a long time—Plato imagined it in The Republic, and here in Kentucky in the 19th century the Shakers designed a “perfect” religious community at Pleasant Hill. Considered more broadly, we might say the Occupy Wall Street group is a kind of utopia, or the Tea Party Movement. Utopian communities have been founded around an array of ideals, from religion to the arts, from agrarianism to hand-crafts. We might say the “Deadheads” (followers of the Grateful Dead) constituted a kind of portable utopia; or that Facebook represents an electronic utopia. So far, however, no utopian community has sustained itself. In this research seminar we will read about the history of several utopian communities, how all utopias have similar ideals and similar shortcomings. Who is attracted to the idea of a utopia and why? What factors in a larger society or economy “cause” people to retreat to a utopian community? Why do utopias fail? Many kinds of communities can be considered utopian—from “gated” communities to sororities. Given this wide array, students will select a particular utopian community to research and write about. Even our seminar might be considered a brief utopian experience in which we share the labor of inquiry as well as the fruits of curiosity.