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Definition: Shakers from Philip's Encyclopedia

(officially United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing) US religious sect. Originally an offshoot of the English Quakers, the nickname derived from the fervour of their religious ceremonies. In 1774, Ann Lee and eight of her followers emigrated to New York. 'Mother Ann' believed she was the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ. After her death (1784), the movement spread, and by c.1850 they numbered c.6000 in more than 18 communes. One of the central beliefs of Shakers is the dual (male and female) nature of the Deity. They are noted for their crafts.


Summary Article: SHAKERS
from The Dictionary of Alternatives

A Christian COMMUNIST SECT, the Shaking Quakers split from the English QUAKERS in the early eighteenth century, and were named because of their ecstatic form of worship that was understood as sin leaving the body. Under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee (‘The Bride of the Lamb’), nine Shakers left for AMERICA and established a settlement in Watervliet, New York State, calling themselves the ‘United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing’. From the late eighteenth century onwards new COMMUNITIES were established in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other states, but the Shakers began to decline in numbers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Their peak of 6,000 members and eighteen communities is now reduced to one COMMUNITY with a handful of members.

The Shakers (like many similar communities – the Rappites, the Amana Colonies, the Zoarites and so on) stressed COMMUNAL values concerning property, insisted that celibacy was the purest state, and modest simplicity the best way of life. Their teachings involved sex segregation but equality based on the idea of a bisexual god, a rejection of lust, celebration of hard work, racial equality (there were black and native American members) and pacifism. Houses were divided, with separate staircases for each single sex ‘family’, and surveillance to prevent physical contact during shaking worship (see HAYDEN). As a result, new Shakers had to come through conversion or adoption – though children were given the option to leave at 21. Like the AMISH Anabaptist sect, or the ONEIDA community (see also BROOK FARM, and OWEN’s ‘New Harmony’) there was a considerable emphasis placed on the virtues of hard work and a MONASTIC lifestyle. As a result, the Shakers have become well known for the quality of their crafts, the simplicity and elegance of their architecture, and their innovative music and dance (often involving native American motifs). All had a considerable influence on forms of ‘form follows function’ modernism in the USA and later Europe from the early twentieth century onwards (see LE CORBUSIER). Engels also praised them as the ‘first people in America, and indeed in the world, who brought into realization a society based on the community of property’.

Copyright © Martin Parker, Valerie Fournier, Patrick Reedy, 2007

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