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Panel Examines Power of Community


What do a spiritual shelter, a utopian town, an artists’ colony and the 21st century two-career family have in common?

According to an interdisciplinary panel of Fordham faculty members who presented their research on Nov. 30, they all serve to help individuals recover, create or empower themselves through community.

Panelists Wakeman, Kubicki, McGee and Swinth. Photo by Janet Sassi

The panel was part of “Creating Community,” the second in this year’s Growing Research at Fordham series designed to highlight quality scholarship being done by the University faculty.

The creative genius of one artist helped to broaden the spiritual and religious colony of Taizé into a worldwide community, said Judith Kubicki, Ph.D., professor of theology.

Brother Roger Schutz founded the colony in France during World War II as a safe haven for Jews and refugees. Its liturgical music, written by Jacques Berthier, helped to break down the barriers of language, culture, politics, ethnicity and education, creating a sense of unity and identity among its worshipers and attracting people from many nations.

Today, more than 100,000 people make a pilgrimage annually to Taize, which thrives as a worldwide ecumenical community dedicated to peace and social justice.

“Roger Schutz desired to heal the wounds of alienation and brokenness that were so evident in splintered Christianity and Europe as a result of World War II,” Kubicki said. “Berthier’s music and the process of creating and revising it contributed to the building of community.”

Micki McGee, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, studied Yaddo—a community stocked with artistic geniuses—and its members’ social relationships. She created a digital mapping tool to measure the impact of friendships between such artists as Carson McCullers, Lewis Mumford and Truman Capote. Then she discovered other academics that were studying similar artistic communities, such as Greenwich Village artists from the 1920s and 20th century philosophers—all with different mapping platforms.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if all of our data could play well together?’” she said.

McGee has received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to create the Compatible Data Initiative, a project working toward universal digital mapping protocols.

Rosemary Wakeman, Ph.D., lectured on the ‘new town’ movement post WW II. Photo by Gina Vergel

Twentieth century utopian communities were the focus of research by Rosemary Wakeman, Ph.D., professor of history and director of the urban studies program. The devastation of World War II, coupled with a terrible housing crisis, led to the creation of “new towns”—utopian communities that promised a closed community of peace, harmony and social justice.

These were “inward-looking” communities with centrally located schools and other institutions, where mothers could look out their windows and see their children at play, and where fathers could walk to work. The new towns were built on every continent, she said, with 125 of them created in the United States.

Although time has proven that utopian communities are more dream than reality, said Wakeman, the notion that the physical design of towns could somehow alter human behavior was part of the post-World War II healing process.

“This vision of community was absorbed as the core of social reconstruction and was a major influence on the way nations themselves were imagined,” she said.

The recent phenomenon of the two-career family is a new division of labor that is redefining the family community, said Kirsten Swinth, Ph.D., associate professor of history and author of the forthcomingBringing Home the Bacon and Frying It Up Too: A Cultural History of the Working Mother in America, 1950-2000.

In fact, the new working family, said Swinth, has created a new field of study among scholars. The phrase itself wasn’t used until 1986, at which time it was defined as a “problem,” Swinth said. New cultural types, such as the “caring man” depicted on the television show Who’s the Boss, have been introduced as men have lost ground as breadwinners.

Swinth cited the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as a watershed in cultural change, but said that the shift in family roles is still too new to be fully understood.

“The more I think about the working family, the more I hope that it offers . . . terrain for all of us to demand changes from the state and from business [toward]more egalitarian, less-pressured results.”

Fordham’s Office of Research sponsored the event.


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