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Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities



Millerism and the Great Awakening the religious revival (when was the G.A. and the II G.A.)

Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller – a Baptist preacher and former army captain in the War of 1812 – launched the “Great Second Advent Awakening.” Based on his study of the prophecy in the Book of Daniel (8:14), Miller calculated that Jesus would return to earth on October 22, 1844. When He did not appear, Miller’s followers experienced what is now called “The Great Disappointment.” Most of the thousands who had joined the movement left it in deep disillusionment, including George Rapp of Harmony, and many Shakers.

A few, however, went back to their Bibles to find why they had been disappointed. Soon they concluded that the October 22 date had indeed been correct, but that Miller had predicted the wrong event for that day. They became convinced that the Bible prophecy predicted not that Jesus would return to earth in 1844, but that He would begin at that time a special ministry in heaven for His followers. From this small group who refused to give up after “The Great Disappointment” arose the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Koreshan movements.

Joshua V. Himes. Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology, Selected from Manuscripts of William Miller, with a Memoir of His Life. Boston: Moses A. Dow, 1841.

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Robert Owen was the preeminent utopian thinker of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A factory owner, he was influenced by industrialization in his native Scotland and the utilitarian philosophy of his friend and business partner, Jeremy Bentham. He purchased the Harmony land and buildings from the Rappites to establish the first socialist commune organized on the principle of rational ethics and not religion.

Owen rebelled against the “trinity of evils:” private property, irrational systems of religion, and marriage founded on property and religion. He developed a plan of progressive paternalism in his commune at “New” Harmony– curfews, house inspections, and fines for drunkenness and illegitimate children. He equated happiness with docility, and as a result was criticized for condescending to the working class.

Owen introduced the trade school to the US, stressing practical training and character building rather than classical education. But Owen’s character indoctrination irked many parents who rarely saw their children during their years of schooling when Owen would “shield children from the unwanted negative influence of their parents and families.” And although Owen stressed gender equality, girls only studied home economics and had little influence in the politics of New Harmony.

Owen’s naïve belief in the power of rational humanism was eventually denigrated by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels; but Engels once wrote of Owen that, in the early 18th century, all social movements and all real advance made in England in the interest of the working class were associated with Robert Owen’s name.