Anthropology, Department of


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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 24 (2009). Copyright © Matthew H. Brittingham; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


America s utopian and communal societies have a long history of using transcendence as a commitment mechanism for followers and converts. The most prevalent commitment mechanism is institutionalized awe through ideology. This principle is extremely important to utopian communities and societies in terms of longevity. Sometimes the ideologies need to be changed in order to help a community sustain awe, and, through the awe, membership. Some of the most successful utopian communities in American history utilized the flexibility of their ideologies to maintain awe and sustain the needs of their members, especially in tragic and difficult circumstances. The American communal societies that were failures in terms of longevity did not use the flexibility of ideological awe to sustain their societies. Part of this could result from the differences between economic and religious ideologies that inspire awe. This paper will explore awe inspiring ideologies in some successful and unsuccessful utopian communities to show how communal groups and their leadership adapted or changed the awe to bring failure or success. When one has a firm grasp of institutionalized awe through ideology it can be seen that ideological awe is extremely important and pervasive in religious traditions and satisfies different human desires.

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