``Under your own vines and fig trees'': A study of Joseph Meacham and the indigenization of millennialist, perfectionist and utopian themes in Shaker religion

Elizabeth Anne Cunicelli, Fordham University

Abstract

It is the thesis of this dissertation that Joseph Meacham, the first American born leader of the Shakers, is the most important figure in the movement of the group from English sect to American utopian community. Commissioned to lead the group by Shaker founder Ann Lee before her death, Meacham provided the theological, ecclesial, and economic structure necessary for the Shakers to survive her passing. In an attempt to understand Joseph Meacham's role in the indigenization of Shakerism, three main points are considered. First, enthusiasm, an organizing principle of Shakerism, was also a component of Meacham's own revivalistic heritage. Second, separately conceived but mutually compatible notions of the kingdom of God in America, which incorporated millennialism and perfectionism as well-defined possibilities, were expressed by Meacham and Ann Lee. Third, a pervasive philosophical bent, described as "revolutionary enlightenment," informed Meacham, his culture, and the establishment of the communal enterprise.^ The period under discussion covers the years 1747 to 1796, the year of the founding of Shakerism in England to the year of Meacham's death in America. The purpose of the study is twofold: (1) to elucidate themes that influenced both Meacham and Shakerism, and to present them in relation to the Shaker venture; (2) to examine in depth, and as an integrated whole, Meacham's body of writings.^ This thesis on Joseph Meacham and early Shakerism is a study in historical theology that is interested in ideas and events that shaped the future of the Shaker endeavor. Theologically, it is concerned with the Shaker view of God and God's activity in the world as interpreted by Joseph Meacham. Primary documents are used: (1) to identify events and themes within Shakerism that led to its Americanization; (2) to examine Meacham's work in light of these themes; (3) to address the movement of the community's theology from Ann Lee to Joseph Meacham; and (4) to determine the content of early Shaker utopian theology and its relation to the establishment of Shaker communal practice. Secondary documents set the historical framework. ^

Subject Area

Biographies|Religious history|Theology

Recommended Citation

Cunicelli, Elizabeth Anne, "``Under your own vines and fig trees'': A study of Joseph Meacham and the indigenization of millennialist, perfectionist and utopian themes in Shaker religion" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9324609.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9324609

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