The Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, is a religious sect which broke off from a group of Quakers in the 18th century. They were known as “Shakers” due to their ecstatic dance during religious rituals. Today, Shakers are known for their celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, and model of sexual equality. In addition, Shaker furniture and architecture is known for its simplistic style.

      The primary Shaker doctrine was founded by “Mother” Ann Lee, a reformer who believed that she was the second incarnation of Christ, in the 1770s. She and the Shakers wanted to redefine traditional sexuality and gender roles that were central to their society; in a religious sense, this meant that they did not endorse God as being male or female. In order to create a new and more perfect society, the Shakers had to create a society that was different and separated from the disorder and chaos of American life during the 1770s. The creation of solely Shaker communities enabled fair and equal societal structure, where women could also exercise a lot of power; communities would be led by an Elder, and an Eldress. The communities’ success was dependent on social discipline rather than personal freedom, to prevent the disorder of the status quo.

     Shaker communities have been in decline since their creation due to their firm beliefs in celibacy, simplicity, and work. Shakers were always a fringe group, with only 6,000 members at their height, in 1840, but their strict rules, especially celibacy decreased membership, leading to 1,000 members in 1905, and only 10 in 2000. Current membership numbers are clearly explained through their celibacy, since new members have to be recruited for a new generation of Shakers.

     We believe that Shakerism is a radical belief. It is derived from Quakerism, itself a very liberal viewpoint, and it emphasizes equality, especially gender equality. Shakerism also shies away from conservative tactics of conversion and coercion in favor of moral suasion. This can be seen in their Quaker roots, because Quakers did not believe in forcing their beliefs on any group of people.

      Shakerism can be considered a success. In our opinion, Shaker communities provide a safe haven from the disorder of industrialization and also provide a fair and equal community. Despite having limited membership, Shaker communities are successful and are known for their peacefulness, equality, and overall simplicity. Their goals have been achieved, to a large extent.


Primary Sources:

"Shaker Furniture." Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Last Shaker Community Maps out Future." National Public Radio.

"The Shaker Sisters."

"Shaker Music & Dance-Hancock Shaker Village."

Secondary Sources:

Evans, Frederick Williams. Shakers and Shakerism. 34-86.

Brinkley Jr, Alan. A Survey in American History. 326-327.

"Who are the Shakers."

"Shakers." Encyclopedia Britannica.

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3 years ago

By Arpan Sarkar and Ben Werther