History of Utopian Communities: Past and Present

What life might you and others choose to live that is as much apart from the world as it is in the world? 

Students defined the term "utopia," contextualized its meaning as an idea born of the Renaissance Humanist, Sir Thomas More, and examined its sub-categories—social, economic, religious, ecological, feminist, educational, and transnational.

Inside the Classroom

We investigated the aspirations of various social groups and their leaders and used some of these as case studies. We examined the wider influence of social utopianism in European society and politics to consider how utopian ideals have shaped revolutionary movements. Questions that the class had students think through:

  • If a group of you had the opportunity to design a more perfect world, what would it look like?
  • What political convictions, social values, and/or spiritual beliefs might be the guiding principles of that life?

Outside the Classroom

Outside the classroom, students visited communes, monasteries, religious retreats, and former utopian communities. The community took a trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to visit with Amish communities, as well as Philadelphia over fall break to visit with a modern urban utopian community. In the spring semester, they conducted interviews with members of a chosen utopian community and had the opportunity to live and work in that community for up to a week.

Students wrote a social contract and experiment with mutually agreed upon rules to live by in the residence hall.

Research and Capstone Project

For this SSIR course, students designed their own capstone experience that included group externships. Each proposed project consisted of groups of two to four students who either:

  • Elected to live outside UR with selected communities for an intensive period, or 
  • Visited with them on a regular basis throughout the spring semester

The project had to consist of students spending at least 50 hours with the community they select. The research and planning for this capstone experience was presented in a proposal format outlining the project in the fall semester. Students had access to $1,000–$1,200 per student to support the project.


Course Fast Facts

Faculty:
Sydney Watts, Ph.D.

Fall course:
HIST 299: Social Utopias (1 unit)
Wednesday/Friday: 12–1:15 p.m. (Fall 2012) 

Spring course:
IDST 290: History of Utopian Communities (.5 unit)

Residence hall:
Lakeview Hall (in 2011–12)

Group travel:
Fall Retreat, August 26-28, 2011
Lancaster County and Philadelphia, PA, Fall Break 2011
Capstone Project Travel, Spring Break 2012