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The Shaker Moment. October 22, 2020 at 1 pm. Why does an 18th century utopian sect appeal to our modern age?

The Shaker Moment: Why an 18th-Century Utopian Sect Appeals to Our Modern Age

Thursday, October 22, 2020
12 – 1 p.m.

For most people, the Shakers are more of a brand than a faith. If someone knows anything about them, it is their simple lifestyle and carefully crafted furniture. Shaker-inspired chairs and cabinets appear in home design magazines, and 19th-century Shaker furniture can be found in art museums and in private collections. Yet the Shakers were much more than their furniture, and their legacy informs our modern longings far more than we may realize.

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, as the Shakers called themselves, was one of the most successful and long-lived utopian societies in America. They believed in radical gender and racial equality long before those movements gained popular appeal and their spiritual practices included ecstatic dance and spirit drawings alongside quiet reflection and somber prayer. As one of the last living Shakers quipped a few years ago: “I don’t want to be remembered as a chair.”

How should we remember the Shakers? What does their religious and communal vision have to offer the world today? For the past two years, a group of religion scholars and art historians, practicing artists, and museum professionals considered the legacy of the Shakers in the present day. The project was generously funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to the Fordham theology department and was co-directed by Kathryn Reklis and Lacy Schutz. This webinar convenes some of the “Shaker Fellows” from this project to talk about what they learned and how the Shaker witness can inspire our own moment.

David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture, will open and close the event, and he will assist in fielding questions from the online audience.


  • Kathryn Reklis, an associate professor of theology at Fordham, writes on a range of topics, from modern Protestant theology to religion and pop culture. Her most recent book is Protestant Aesthetics and the Arts, co-edited with Sarah Covington.
  • Lacy Schutz is the executive director of the Shaker Museum, which stewards the most comprehensive collection of Shaker material culture and archives, as well as the historic Shaker site in New Lebanon, New York. The museum’s permanent new facility, in Chatham, New York, is slated for completion in 2023.
  • Courtney Bender, a professor of religion at Columbia University, specializes in contemporary American religion. She is completing a book on modernist visions of the future of religion that developed in 20th-century architectural and planning projects.
  • Maggie Taft is an art historian specializing in modern design and the curator of the Shaker Museum exhibit that was installed in downtown Chatham, New York.
  • Ashon T. Crawley is a professor of religious studies and African-American studies at the University of Virginia and author of Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. He is also a practicing artist.


This event is open to alumni, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the public.