Donald E. Pitzer, “Memories of ICSA,” in Yaacov Oved and Jan Bang, eds. The International Communal Studies Association History and Recollections. Publication pending, 2016, 10-21. Accessible on the ICSA website after February 25, 2016.
Memories of ICSA
Donald E. Pitzer
It is a pleasure to contribute my memories of the founding and early years of the International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) in celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2015. It is especially so since I closely collaborated with the prime mover, Yaacov Oved, as we became founders. He was chosen as the executive chairman; I was elected its first president and still serve on its board of directors. It is also gratifying to know that other initiatives I had the privilege of leading—the Center for Communal Studies at the University of Southern Indiana and the Communal Studies Association—played a significant role in the creation and ongoing activities of the ICSA.
My interest in communal societies came in 1967 when I joined the history faculty of the new campus of Indiana State University in Evansville (which became the University of Southern Indiana in 1985). This subject was attractive to me because I had focused on nineteenth century American social and religious history for my doctorate at The Ohio State University. Suddenly, I was within thirty miles of New Harmony, the site of two of the most renowned communal groups in nineteenth century America, the Harmonists of Prophet George Rapp and the followers of socialist Robert Owen. Fortunately, Dr. David Rice, the first dean of the campus, matched my enthusiasm for academic connections to this famous town. He was the first person to take me there, where he introduced me to John Elliott, descendant of an Owen community member, and his wife Josephine Mirabella Elliott. As a New Harmony scholar in her own right and USI’s first archivist, Josephine became my close collaborator in research, publications, and in beginning the USI Communal Studies Collection which has won an international reputation as a repository on historic and contemporary communal utopias. Soon I was deeply engrossed in the primary sources at New Harmony’s Working Men’s Institute, Indiana’s oldest continuously functioning library founded by Robert Owen’s communal partner, William Maclure, in 1838.
Dean Rice supported my organizing the Robert Owen Bicentennial Conference in New Harmony in 1971. Contacts from this meeting helped me use my 1974 sabbatical to visit historic communal sites from Amana to Zoar in America as well as the Harmonist origins in Württemberg, Germany and Robert Owen’s New Lanark, Scotland. Owenite scholar Arthur Bestor, Jr. had become my mentor, and I selected the sites to visit in the United States from the list in the appendix of his classic Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian and Owenite Phases of Communitarian Socialism in America: 1663-1829 (1950). I sowed the first seeds of the National Historic Communal Societies Association (NHCSA), which became the Communal Studies Association (CSA) in 1990, at the historic Swedish colony in Bishop Hill, Illinois. In the living room of community descendant and site director Ronald Nelson, I suggested the potential for founding a national communal societies association. It could hold annual meetings to bring together academics, historic site personnel, communal descendants, and members of current intentional communities. As never before, they could share information, promote historic preservation, and increase the study and understanding of this important social phenomenon. The time seemed especially ripe because of the heightened interest in the communal method of reform caused as the youth movement formed thousands of hippie and Jesus communes across America and abroad. Nelson agreed that I should introduce the organization idea to others I met during my sabbatical travels and call a meeting in New Harmony that fall if interest warranted.
In November 1974, with the sponsorship of the university’s history department, I organized the first Historic Communal Societies Conference. About 80 people from New Harmony and several other historic communal locations attended this groundbreaking event and heard presentations by communal scholars and site directors. It was decided that any attempt at organization should wait until a second conference at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky the following year. Thus, at Pleasant Hill in the fall of 1975, the National Historic Communal Societies Association was established. I was honored to become its first president and, from 1976 to 1993, its executive director. The NHCSA board of advisors asked me to see if my campus at Indiana State University Evansville would create a Center for Communal Studies which, among other functions, would become headquarters for the new organization. In July 1976, the Center began operation under the department of history and served as NHCSA/CSA headquarters until 1995. I directed the Center for Communal Studies from its beginning until I retired as professor emeritus of history after 2007. The Center continues under the direction of Dr. Casey Harison. I am grateful that these positions gave me the opportunity to experience the cutting edge of the communal studies field during a period of vast increase in communal groups and therefore rapid expansion of scholarly interest, research, and international cooperation.
Yaacov Oved planted the earliest seeds of an international communal studies association when he attended our 1978 NHCSA conference in Omaha, Nebraska. I soon learned he was well qualified to make this initiative. He was from Kibbutz Palmachim which he helped found in 1949. He had recently earned his doctorate in history, much like I had before moving near New Harmony. He had come to the Project for Kibbutz Studies at Harvard University as a pioneer in the comparative analysis of American communes to the kibbutzim of Israel. Yaacov was an engaging, energetic, and enthusiastic scholar on a mission even closer to his heart. I discovered that we were on the same wave length with a strong desire to create a broad network of scholars and others interested in all aspects of communal societies, especially the universal lessons their experiments might teach the world as voluntary social laboratories.
By good fortune for everyone, Yaacov had learned of the NHCSA when he found its newsletter at the historic Shaker site at Harvard, Massachusetts where I had visited on my 1974 sabbatical tour and had begun sending our literature. During the conference, Yaacov and I formed a lifelong bond of friendship. He wanted to make connections between American communal scholars and those in Israeli universities, particularly the University of Tel Aviv, where he taught, and the Yad Tabenkin, established in 1975 as the research institution of the kibbutz movement. I believe it was during our 1980 conference at the Shaker Village of Hancock in Massachusetts that Yaacov generously invited me to visit Israel so I could personally exchange information with kibbutz scholars and experience kibbutz life firsthand. My response, as he also remembers, was that it would be wonderful but impossible. I found out that Yaacov Oved does not shrink from the impossible. By 1995, I had been to Israel three times, and we had become founders and officers of the ICSA! Yaacov also facilitated the invitation for me to be a scholar-in-residence in 1983 at the Project for Kibbutz Studies directed by Joseph Blasi at Harvard as he had been earlier. This experience, for which I am eternally grateful, opened innumerable doors for cooperative interaction with kibbutz and other scholars, including the indomitable and quick-witted Henry Near whose memory I cherish, and access to unlimited printed sources.
Yaacov’s presence at the Omaha conference produced another important breakthrough in the study of communal societies that would become a major feature and function of both the NHCSA/CSA and the ICSA. For the first time in a formal, scholarly gathering, academics used to dealing at arms length with historic communitarians in books and archives now began interacting with current communitarians face to face. I encouraged this because of the invaluable knowledge and contacts I had gained from my own visits with four prominent living communal groups: the Padanaram community of Daniel Wright near Bedford, Indiana; the Society of Brothers’ Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton, New York; Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois; and The Farm, the largest ever Hippie commune led by Stephen Gaskin near Summertown, Tennessee. Each adventure into an existing intentional community was a bold adventure for a historian. I have said that without my outside field in sociology it might never have happened. Luckily, sociologists seem to rush in where historians fear to tread. I could tell immediately that benefits were mutual and immediate from such academic/communitarian contacts and found they later resulted in members of these four communities becoming active in the CSA and ICSA as presenters and board members. So I was pleased when this kind of interaction was going to occur at the Omaha conference.
Conferees were about to carry on revealing personal conversations with Yaacov Oved, Avraham Yassour of Kibbutz Merhavia who was a professor of history at the University of Haifa, and Michael Allen (also called Allen Michael), leader of the Messiah’s World Crusade and its One World Family Commune located in San Francisco. Since Yaacov and others were interested in the Hutterite movement, they drove to South Dakota to meet with leaders and residents at the original North American Hutterite settlement of Bon Homme and brought the conferees the latest information on this thriving communal movement as well. The most telling moment of the Omaha meeting occurred when Michael Allen, a frail-looking and humble little man, walked slowly to the front of a plenary session and said in a small, calm voice “Hello. I am the Messiah.” Instantly, a collective gasp swept the academically-oriented audience and many visibly jerked back in their chairs.
Most had studied about historic communitarians who had claimed to be God, like Mother Ann Lee and Father Divine, but to have someone standing right in front of them make that claim had an electric and lasting effect. Communal studies would never be the same! That moment visibly broke the ice that had separated most scholars from the reality of living, breathing communal utopians. The close interaction of academics with folks living in intentional communities, or joining groups themselves, would come to characterize and legitimize communal scholarship during the sunburst of community formation in the last quarter of the twentieth century and beyond. Thankfully, members of the CSA, ICSA, Society for Utopian Studies and its European branch that spun off of the ICSA’s 1988 conference at New Lanark, Scotland have played a large part in this essential development.
Members of these organizations were also in the vanguard of another advance in our thinking that had to occur for this expansion of interaction with current communitarians to take full effect in the field of communal studies. Past scholars had thought of communal societies as groups united economically by community of goods alone. We had to convince ourselves and others that a multitude of economic arrangements could be made to fit the definition of communal societies as intentional communities and therefore come under the purview of our subject. Such economic unions include cooperatives, collectives, land trusts, and many other minimal forms of economic sharing within communal groups united around common ideals and purposes.
The gradual acceptance of this historical/theoretical transition among communal scholars and current communitarians alike has been critical to the inclusion of modern co-housing projects, ecovillages, and retirement centers in the expanded research, papers, and publications of recent decades. It is satisfying to know that opportunities for dialogue and networking afforded by the CSA and ICSA have been vital to this progress. I am also glad that my own increasing interaction with current communitarians placed me in a position to be instrumental in this important shift of focus. I was grateful when invited to participate in the early 1980s meeting at the Stelle community in Illinois at which the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), which traces roots back as far as 1937, reorganized and became the most universal organization and voice of contemporary American communitarianism. I served on the FIC board and, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, assisted its work through the Center for Communal Studies as it published its first Intentional Communities Directory. FIC leaders and members, including Dan Questenberry, Caroline Estes, Geoph Kozeny, and Allen Butcher, became active in both the CSA and ICSA.
By the time the impossible became possible for me to accept Yaacov’s invitation to visit Kibbutz Palmachim, it was 1983. In true Yaacov style, he had already put wheels in motion that would result in the first international conference, “Kibbutz and Commune—Past and Future,” at which the ICSA would be founded in 1985. I was proud to be the American liaison for these monumental developments but was mostly just along for the ride. Or, should I say walk? As Yaacov and I strolled the sunny Palmachim beach along the Mediterranean speaking of the form and name an international organization should take to unite scholarly communal efforts around the world, I sensed we were making history. At that moment we came upon a large rock just wading distance into the water that Yaacov had undoubtedly seen many times before. As we climbed up and sat upon it, all the ideas he and I had discussed about such an association over the years seemed to jell. The organization would take a form not too unlike that of the successful Communal Studies Association (CSA) in the United States, would use a similar name as the International Communal Studies Association (ICSA), and would be founded at the global conference Yaacov had in the planning stage to be held at Yad Tabenkin with the support of Tel Aviv University. No wonder we decided to call this Foundation Rock.
My first visit to Israel not only opened my eyes to the communal implications of the historical mission, utopian nature, and enormity of the kibbutz movement, but also introduced me to people who would be crucial to the administration, conferences, and networking of the ICSA. At Palmachim, I met Yaacov’s gracious wife, Titi, who showed me the bomb shelter where she took meticulous care of the Palmachim archival collection. Yaacov also introduced me to Eli and Arza Avrahami, who became faithful ICSA supporters and traveled all the way to America to present papers at our Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania meeting in 1991. At Yad Tabenkin I met a core of competent and committed people who would play vital roles in the ICSA. These included Shimon Mahler, Director of International Relations, Idit Paz, editor of Kibbutz Studies and Ruth Sobol, who became the ICSA secretary and the capable right hand of assistance for all its members to the present. Then I returned home thinking I would have to move heaven and earth to get American communal scholars, communitarians, and descendants of historic communal societies to participate in the first international communal studies conference and the organization it would found.
It turned out that my task was relatively easy. Interest in communal living ran high on all sides, academic and public. CSA members were anxious to present their newest research to an international audience. Descendants of members of historic communal movements had formed heritage societies and wanted to demonstrate their enthusiasm for international cooperation and to tell the stories of their ancestors’ quest for utopia. The Center for Communal Studies, with the relentless spirit of my talented secretary, Mary Hayden, trumpeted the good news of the upcoming meeting.
As a result, the United States was well represented among people from ten countries at this unprecedented gathering of those most interested and informed about communally organized groups past and present. America sent no fewer than seventeen scholars, two descendants of the Icarian movement, two from historic Amana, Iowa, seven Bruderhof members, and one Hutterite. CSA members, including Pearl Bartelt, Karol Borowski, Hans Meier, Charles Petranek, Mario De Pillis, Madeline Roemig, Lillian Snyder, Carol Weisbrod, and I presented papers that were published in the book of conference lectures edited by Yosef Gorney, Yaacov Oved, and Idit Paz, Communal Life: An International Perspective (1987). As I sat on the platform with Yaacov at the opening plenary, I thrilled at the array in the audience. It confirmed our faith that communal studies could take its worthy place among the disciplines that deserve the consideration of the best minds and most forward-looking spirits in the world. When I spotted the two descendants of nineteenth-century Icarians who had flown all the way from Nauvoo, Illinois, I noticed that the seemingly indefatigable, 95-year-old Florence Snyder was tugging on the arm of her daughter Lillian, who had succumbed to jet lag. It reminded me that interest in the ideals of living communally in a society of peace and goodwill was in fact awake and would remain so as long as we were intent on insuring the alertness of others.
Insights I gained from the free interchange of ideas at this conference and the revealing tour to several kibbutzim that followed provided the capstone evidence for a theory that had been forming in my mind for years. Although my paper at the meeting dealt with “Patterns of Education in American Communal Societies,” my attention had already been diverted to a theoretical question. What constituted success and failure for communal groups? Should a rating of success be based solely on the lifespan of the group? This had been done in Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s 1972 study, Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective, which required at least a twenty-five-year lifespan. Or, should the perception of success and failure be related to a long-range developmental process in which the whole history and achievements of the founding movement were taken into account?
I had begun thinking that the second approach was the appropriate one based, at first, on my reading of Bestor’s Backwoods Utopias on the Owenite movement. Bestor noted that after the collapse of Owen’s New Harmony as America’s earliest experiment in communitarian socialism, his social reform movement adopted other methods, including lectures, publications, and public forums, to help achieve women’s and laborer’s rights, birth control, consumer/producer cooperatives, and free public schools, libraries, and museums. Bestor’s argument for the success of the overall Owenite movement after its communal phase was reinforced by a conversation I had with Shaker Sister Gertrude Soule at Canterbury, New Hampshire. She told me that “Mother [Ann Lee] said when the movement gets down to the number of fingers on one hand there will be a great revival.” But Sister Soule did not think the revived movement would likely use the communal method of organization. She thought the times no longer made the creation of large agricultural settlements attractive. Furthermore, in a lecture at Amana, Iowa, I once implied that somehow the founding Inspirationist movement had ended when the Amana Colonies abandoned community of goods for private ownership in 1932, thus ceasing to be a “communal society.” Amana resident and conference speaker Madeline Roemig (later Bendorf) kindly corrected me, saying “We are still a community, still a church, still a vital religious movement.”
So I came to the international conference convinced that the study of the communal phase of a movement was not sufficient to assess the life, character, and contributions of the larger movement. That movement might have employed other organizational structures and methods of reform before and after its communal phase. But for the first time, on the post-conference tour from Kibbutz Degania near the Sea of Galilee to Kibbutz Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, I was able to observe, in various stages of development, several active communal groups founded for a single purpose. The Zionist and socialist movements had used the communal method of organization and reform to settle Jews in Palestine. Degania had been established as the first kibbutz in 1910, with community of goods as the economic union that would characterize all kibbutzim. My perception was that when Israel became a state in 1948 the founding Zionist movement had reached a significant goal and may not have felt as economically committed to these settlements thereafter. Well before my visit in 1985, financial challenges also had arisen related to a decrease in government and other outside funding especially after the Likud Party victory in the 1977 elections. Yet some of the kibbutzim were responding in a developmental process with the adoption of income-producing, on-site manufacturing and other means.
Those we visited were addressing not only external but also internal issues such as women’s roles, whether to end the system of separate housing for children, and how to retain the rising generation in the communal lifestyle. It was said that, in a few, as many as half the young adults were leaving. Some were opting for life in moshavim. These were Jewish communities based on private ownership that had been created by the Zionist movement in 1921 as an alternative to the strictly communal kibbutzim. It was apparent from this tour that kibbutzim were founded in an early phase of movements with political and utopian objectives and that the communities were creatively adjusting communal life and organization to changing realities in order to insure their continued existence. It also was clear in a larger sense that once movements had achieved their main objectives they might not be as committed to the communal method which led to their success. I came to the realization that communal living could be a means to an end, and not always an end in itself.
These observations were crucial in helping me define the elements of what became my theory of “developmental communalism.” This term, following a trend in the social sciences, was suggested by my sociologist colleague Charles Petranek who also spoke at the conference and took the tour. Developmental communalism came together around three premises. First, that living communally is a universal social mechanism available to all peoples, governments, and movements. Second, the communal method of organization and reform is usually adopted in an early stage of a people or movement or during a crisis because of its promise of security, solidarity, and survival as well as the opportunity to experiment. Third, communal living must be adjusted over time or abandoned altogether to meet the challenges and opportunities of new realities.
The selection of Robert Owen’s historic cotton mill town of New Lanark, Scotland for the next ICSA conference in 1988, co-sponsored by the CSA, pleased me in many ways. I believe I may have been the first to make a pilgrimage to New Lanark from New Harmony during that eventful 1974 sabbatical. There I met the new director of the site, Jim Arnold, who, during the intervening years, presided over the nearly miraculous salvation of not only the invaluable mills, but also the school with a fallen roof that had housed Owen’s utopian Institution for the Formation of Character. These were the remarkable venues that hosted the ICSA sessions. Two hundred people attended, and I had worked diligently to make sure the diverse attendees would include the great, great grandson of Robert Owen, Kenneth Dale Owen and his wife, Jane Blaffer Owen, who had become the major philanthropist of New Harmony’s cultural and physical renaissance since the 1940s. About 30 members of the Robert Owen Association of Japan, which had invited me to speak at its 25th anniversary celebration in Tokyo in 1984, accepted my invitation to attend the ICSA meeting in Owen’s New Lanark. Owen’s progressive management techniques and social reform ideas had generated interest in Japan by the early twentieth century. The closing banquet of the ICSA/CSA conference in New Lanark was most memorable. It took place in one of the spacious rooms on an upper floor of the partly restored cotton mills. The evening became magical, filled with the lilting sounds of Scottish tunes and warm parting wishes; a sacred time when we were so united we could recalibrate our lives with the universe.
From a scholarly standpoint, I was most grateful for the opportunity this ICSA meeting gave me to place my evolving theory of developmental communalism before an international audience—especially one that included scholars familiar with the Owenite and kibbutz movements that figured so largely in the evidence that brought the theory to life. Yaacov and I both spoke at the opening plenary at the University of Edinburgh. I presented my paper, titled “Developmental Communalism: An Alternative Approach to Communal Studies,” and sincerely appreciated the comments and criticisms that were expressed. Those of Shimon Mahler and other kibbutz members were particularly poignant and helpful. These men were concerned about the implications related to the uncomfortable need to insure communal vitality by adjusting or abandoning communal traditions, customs, and organizational structures. They seemed unconvinced that this needed to happen in the beloved kibbutzim they helped found. Later, when the 1995 ICSA meeting was held in Israel, I walked the streets of Shimon’s kibbutz with him by my side and was deeply touched by this aging man’s remarks. He said he had observed the developmental changes taking place there, as the theory suggested, and we shared the hope that the adjustments would preserve the best features of his cherished community.
Theoretically, my conversations with Shimon and others led me to a broader understanding of the dark side of the adjustment process. This suggests that if communal living and other practices become tenets of faith or unchangeable disciplines as with the Shakers and Harmonists, the founding movement may stagnate, wither, and die, resulting in the death of its communal groups. On the other hand, if the founding movement is dynamic enough to make necessary adjustments away from the disciplines of communal living, it may grow and expand like the Owenites and Mormons, while its communes become unnecessary or abandoned. I eventually called this the Double Jeopardy Threat. I was privileged to introduce this further insight in my paper “Developmental Communalism: the Double-Jeopardy Threat to Communal Longevity” at the opening plenary session of the ICSA conference held at Yad Tabenkin in May 1995.
I will be forever thankful for the significant role that ICSA members, meetings, and publications have played in the presentation, dissemination, and evaluation of my theory of developmental communalism. It first appeared in print when my paper at the 1988 conference in New Lanark and Edinburgh was published in the proceedings edited by Dennis Hardy and Lorna Davidson as Utopian Thought and Communal Experience in 1989. The wider audience this created aroused interest among scholars who had studied many historic and contemporary movements which had used the communal method of organization. This had two major results. First, it helped produce a whole session titled “Developmental Communalism” at the 1991 ICSA meeting in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. There I explained and updated the theory and three others—Pearl Bartelt, J. Gordon Melton, and Albert Bates—joined me to present evidence from their studies and experience regarding Jewish settlements in America, Theosophical communities, and The Farm hippie commune as detailed below. The second result was that sixteen scholars volunteered along with me to write original essays focusing on the developmental process within movements and the communal groups they organized in America by 1965. The University of North Carolina Press published these accounts as America’s Communal Utopias in 1997. This book includes a comprehensive list of some 1400 historic American communal societies which I compiled from multiple sources in the Center for Communal Studies. For the first time, they are grouped with their founding movements to emphasize their ideological origins and their development into, and often beyond, a communal phase.
More recently, Jan Bang, a leading figure in the ICSA with decades of experience in kibbutz and Camphill communities, made the theory of developmental communalism the basis for his Growing Eco-Communities: Practical Ways to Create Sustainability (Floris Books, 2007). He employed its concepts in a practical guide to illustrate phases in contemporary intentional communities. Anthropologist Joshua Lockyer used developmental communalism as a foundation upon which to build his own theory of “transformative utopianism.” Lockyer’s paper at the 2008 CSA meeting and my response appeared in Communal Societies: Journal of the Communal Studies Association in 2009. Yaacov Oved, as an editor of The Communal Idea in the 21st Century (Brill, 2013), gave me the opportunity to expand the application of my theory in a chapter titled “Developmental Communalism into the Twenty-First Century.” In it I presented evidence that we are now witnessing an example of an ultimate stage of developmental communalism, one in which progressive ideas, ideals, and innovations pioneered in voluntary communal groups in one era are widely adopted by the general society in the next. Such social laboratories in the last half of the twentieth century helped lead the way into hopeful changes we are seeing worldwide in the early twentieth-first century, which I will enumerate in my conclusion below. In 2014, I was pleased when Harvard Divinity School Senior Lecturer Daniel McKanan found developmental communalism a useful tool for analysis in his paper at the Communal Studies Association meeting in Amana, Iowa. Titled “Camphill at Seventy-five: Developmental Communalism in Process,” Daniel applied the theory to challenges and changes to the communalism and mission of this large and important humanitarian international movement.
Since I was elected the first ICSA president at the 1988 New Lanark conference, I got to be closely involved with the towering scholars and gracious hosts who planned and participated in the next triennial meeting at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, July 25-28, 1991. Religious historian Calvin Redekop chaired the program committee on which I served along with sociologist and ICSA charter member Pearl Bartelt, Anabaptist historian Donald Durnbaugh and Amish experts John Hostetler and Donald Kraybill, who also was conference coordinator.
The range of sponsors and presenters for this gathering signaled the breadth to which the wave for cooperative communal studies had reached from Yaacov’s initiative. Joining the ICSA as sponsors were the CSA, Fellowship for Intentional Community, and Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. A young Jeffrey Bach, now the Young Center’s director, was one of the conference staff, presented a paper, and has remained, like so many others, a lifelong loyalist to communal studies, speaking most recently at the 2014 CSA conference in Amana.
In my roles as executive director of the CSA and director of the Center for Communal Studies, I encouraged as large participation as possible, and I was not disappointed. More than one hundred scholars and communitarians appeared on the program “Communal Societies: Values and Structures.” It became apparent that, like our earlier and subsequent conferences, this meeting would attract presentations by many of the most respected men and women from across the academic disciplines as well as leaders from among the historic and current movements that adopted the communal method of organization. A host of noted kibbutz scholars and residents came, returning the favor of Americans who attended the first meeting at Yad Tabenkin. Other speakers included Mario De Pillis, historian of Mormonism; Lyman Tower Sargent, current head of the Society for Utopian Studies and most prolific contemporary writer on utopianism; and Hans Meier, patriarch of the Bruderhof movement. Life in youth communes was detailed by Joe Peterson of the Jesus People movement and Dan Questenberry and Caroline Estes of the Fellowship for Intentional Commuity. Among other presenters was Professor of Religious Studies Timothy Miller, already the most experienced academic in on-site research in American communes founded since 1960. His The ‘60s Communes and Encyclopedic Guide to American Intentional Communities became invaluable. And the roaming communitarian, Geoph Kozeny, who lived in and visited more current communes than anyone, gave an illustrated lecture on “Contemporary Intentional Communities in North America.” The video interviews he later conducted with communitarians and produced for sale by the FIC have become essential resources for understanding the intentional communities of the late twentieth century.
Program topics for the Elizabethtown conference were the most diverse yet. They included five sessions on “Contemporary Communities,” four on “Communal Practice,” and two each on “Gender/Family,” “Socialism on Trial,” and “Utopian Ideology.” I took particular pleasure in the fact that three sessions were devoted to “Communal Theory” which often gets such little attention and that another had been reserved for a panel and dialogue on my theory of developmental communalism. I got to present it in its latest incarnation and to hear it examined from others’ evidence—Pearl Bartelt of Glassboro State College on “Developmental Communalism in Jewish Settlements in the USA,” J. Gordon Melton of the University of California, Santa Barbara on “Theosophy—Before, During and Since its Communal Phase,” and Albert Bates of The Farm hippie community in Tennessee on “Post-Communal Economic Experiments at The Farm.” These presentations and the dialogue that followed produced ever expanding insights and perspectives on the developmental process in religious, ideological, and reform movements past and present and in the communal units they establish. Bartelt’s and Melton’s papers became chapters in America’s Communal Utopias.
The conference concluded with a festival of communal music. This unique and inspiring evening highlighted musical selections of and by the Moravians, Shakers, Ephrata Cloister, Bruderhof, and Padanaram. An informative post-conference tour took over forty conferees to the New Meadow Run bruderhof and to historic Harmonist Old Economy Village near Pittsburgh.
All of the collaborative goals Yaacov and I had imagined for the ICSA coalesced at the international conference in historic Harmonist and Owenite New Harmony in 1993. The ICSA adjusted its usual triennial sequence of meetings to join with the annual meeting of the CSA scheduled that year in New Harmony to mark the 20th anniversary of the first historic communal societies conference I had helped organize there in 1974. Yaacov Oved and many kibbutz scholars graced the meeting with their presence and their seminal presentations. Harmony Associates and Historic New Harmony at the local level joined in supporting the meeting along with its co-sponsors, the ICSA, CSA, Center for Communal Studies, and Fellowship for Intentional Community. The product was what we had witnessed before: a unified celebration of communal scholarship and historic preservation, plus the shared experiences of current communitarians. There was a joyous atmosphere in which people gawked in amazement as guru Ma Jaya rollerbladed in the streets with devotees of her Kashi Ashram. Then it turned sobering. She told in her session how her community cared for AIDS victims and how, with unconditional love, she held babies whose own families would not touch them.
This conference experienced a new level of cooperation. There was such unity among the organizations related to communal studies that their separate boards met together. In the restored Harmonist cooper shop, members of the ICSA, CSA, FIC, and Center for Communal Studies boards formed a circle and sat as one. The occasion was a highlight of my life and career that still gives me goose bumps. As I looked around the circle, I was looking around the world. And it fully dawned upon me the worldwide influence for good that our organizations and our hope for humanity could, or would, or was having. We had all taken on this utopian attitude while keeping our feet on the solid ground of slow, relentless progress in the nonviolent ways of our choice. We took renewed strength, courage, and hope from the combined energy and commitment of that circle on that day.
However, I had decided that as the CSA returned to New Harmony in 1993 to commemorate the first such conference, I would step down as its executive director while continuing to direct the Center for Communal Studies, which I did until my retirement at the end of 2007. During the opening plenary, I recounted the origins of the CSA, praised its accomplishments, and told my hopes for its future. Mostly though, I tried to express my sincere appreciation for the important place its members held in my life and career. They aided and abetted my efforts with their talents and their friendship. This is the same message of gratitude that I hope the memories I have recalled for this project to celebrate the ICSA’s 30th anniversary will convey to its members who have enriched my life in innumerable ways.
In conclusion, let me say that I know there are questions that remain and work to be done as we face the future. We may ask if the world is awakening to any of the important lessons from the experience and experiments of communal groups as voluntary social laboratories begun in the last half of the twentieth century. I believe we can answer “yes.” As promised above, here is a list of hopeful changes in society at large upon which this conclusion is based. They are from my chapter “Developmental Communalism into the Twenty-First Century” in The Communal Idea in the 21th Century (2013) edited by Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Yaacov Oved, and Menachem Topel which suggests that we are living in an ultimate stage of developmental communalism when social, economic, environmental, and ideological advancements initiated in communal groups since the 1960s are seen playing out in the general society. To some extent we can credit the examples for equality and justice, tolerance and spirituality, peace and love set by the hippie and Jesus communes of the youth movement and the ashrams based on Eastern religions for certain of today’s positive emphases—most notably upon gender equality, multiculturalism, interfaith dialogue, group decision-making, and peaceful inter-personal dispute resolution. Beginning in Denmark in the 1960s, what became the cohousing movement in the 1980s arose to explore communal solutions to the impersonal and expensive realities of modern urban life. Its innovative approaches have given thousands of college students, retirement centers, and public shared-living projects the concepts and models on which to create economical, safe, and neighborly living environments. By the 1990s, communal ecovillages became a cutting edge for introducing clean and enduring wind, solar, and thermal energy sources in the face of global warming caused by the use of polluting and exhaustible fossil fuels. Today, ecovillage innovations in green technology, organic foods, and sustainable lifestyles have become worldwide watchwords for a positive future. In this optimistic vein, I also dedicated my 2012 book, New Harmony Then & Now, to “my granddaughter, Harmony Dove Malie Pitzer, my hope for New Harmony’s utopian promise.”
A second question we might ask is whether there could be more effective cooperation among the organizations promoting communal and utopian studies—even an amalgamation with a unified headquarters that might prove more economical and efficient. Or do their separate identities give these organizations the advantages of diversity, flexibility, and exposure? In either case, past and present cooperation among the organizations has proven most beneficial to all. And they all owe their great gratitude to Yad Tabenkin and its competent staff for headquartering for the ICSA and serving their memberships as an invaluable worldwide clearinghouse for information, research, and programming. I wish to express my personal appreciation to Yad Tabenkin and all my friends there over the years.
A final question lies close to one of my own earlier dreams. Could a student intern exchange program still materialize in which college credit would be earned by American students for service learning in Israeli kibbutzim and Israeli students for studying in American intentional communities or historic communal sites? When I visited with Jan Bang during a 1995 tour of Kibbutz Gezer, we decided that such a venture might be feasible. When I returned home, I facilitated such a formal student exchange agreement between the University of Southern Indiana (with President H. Ray Hoops) and Tel Aviv University (with the assistance of Professor Abel Schejter who was Director of Interacademic Affairs). This arrangement was to offer students a learning experience at communal sites in both countries. Although USI’s Center for Communal Studies has assisted students from other countries to intern in nearby New Harmony and far-off New Lanark, Scotland (the first also a winner of my own history scholarship), the promise of this opportunity from and to Israel has not been realized. During 2014, Jan Bang graciously revisited the idea with me and explored its potential with others familiar with current realities and possibilities in kibbutzim. At best, the concept remains on hold pending further interest and developments in America and Israel.
The year 2015 marks both the 30th anniversary of the International Communal Studies Association and the 40th anniversary of the Communal Studies Association. It is satisfying to look back on all that these two organizations have done to inspire and facilitate cooperation and scholarship in this important field. To their credit, they have provided a forum of cordial and informative meetings and scholarly publications in which the long neglected, misunderstood, and sometimes controversial subject of communal studies has been treated with respect, integrity, and intellectual objectivity. We have many individuals and institutions to thank for the creation and support of these organizations. For the ICSA, we gladly thank Yaacov Oved for his conceptual vision, founding impulse, and guiding spirit. He has remained a faithful founding father and far-seeing executive director, all the while maintaining his impressive scholarship as a leading historian in this discipline. It became my distinct honor to hand Yaacov the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Communal Studies Association. Since our walk on the beach at Kibbutz Palmachim in 1983, I have had the privilege of walking the paths of scores of other kibbutzim, historic and living communal sites, and conference venues with this true friend, communitarian, and scholar. If someday you search for Yaacov and me, look out to that beach in the great beyond. We will still be keeping the faith, walking arm-in-arm, seeking how humanity might adopt the most noble, humanitarian, and ecologically sustainable ideals and practices of Earth’s kibbutzim and communal societies.