This panel focuses on ways of perceiving and studying utopian religious ideas. Papers include both historical and contemporary perspectives on concepts of vernacular utopianism found within established denomination religions, sectarian religions, and individualized spiritual beliefs and practices.
A utopia has been defined as a space or place of idyllic perfection. Utopian imaginary concepts have been integral parts of denominational religions, sectarian religions, and individualized spiritual beliefs and practices in the Judeo-Christian West for centuries, certainly stimulated by the mythology of Adam and Eve in the grace-filled, God-filled Garden of Eden. Utopian ideals have also served as distinctive platforms for individuals to create their own original religious ideas and practices. This panel would like to examine such manifestations of religiosity through the special emphasis of vernacular religion on the negotiation and creation of religion in everyday life. The main focus of this panel is on the expressive culture of utopian religious communities worldwide within established denominational religions, unstructured religious traditions, sectarian religions, and the utopian belief and practice of individuals. Concentrating on the manifestation of such forms of utopia in art, song, foodways, costume, architecture, narrative, etc., the panel will examine how such vernacular creativity works to preserve, stimulate, and strengthen belief in the perfect life. What happens to the quality of such expressivity when related vernacular theologies conflict with reality? Is it possible to tell the story of utopians communities and religiosity through ethnographies of expressive culture? Do utopian ideas connect themselves to and try to preserve the religious tradition or rather reject the religious heritage? Papers which combine theoretical approaches with ethnological case studies are especially encouraged, but dynamic historical approaches are also appreciated. The panel is organized by the Ethnology of Religion Working Group.