The Role of Theology in the Production of Space in Shaker Societies

Thumbnail Image


umi-umd-2177.pdf (85.16 MB)
No. of downloads: 638

Publication or External Link






Social space is produced by societies according to the spatial practices that exist within the society. The produced space is a set of relations between objects within the space. The set of economic relations, for example, corresponds to space in which manufacturing and trade can take place while the set of political relations characterizes the space in which governments operate. Theology is also a relation that exists within a society's space, but the space it defines is not well studied and the nature of theological space is not well understood. In some cases, theology is the dominant factor in the production of the space within which a community interacts. The relative importance of theology to its concomitant space is expressed by the architecture, icons, and symbols produced by the society. This research studies the nature of theological space and its production by examining the spatial practices of the religious sect known as the Shakers. This 19th century millennial sect worked to establish heaven on earth, building communities across the northeastern and Midwestern United States. These early planned communities were built according to the precepts of the Shaker theology. Their theology was centered in their belief that the Shaker villages would be the locus of God's kingdom on earth.

The Shakers produced their space by regulating the appearance of their villages-- by conforming the village layout and architecture to the precepts of their theology and by reinforcing the tenets of their theology by restricting contact between the sect's members and citizens of the world at large--and through the way they drew and used maps and religious art.