If you have studied the history of religion in America -- part of my double-major as an undergraduate and then my master's degree work in church-state studies -- then you will have run into the fascinating movement called the Shakers. Trust me, there is more to these believers than their influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement and, well, L.L. Bean.
The Shakers are in the news right now for reasons that are easy to understand, but a bit harder to explain -- if you care about the details.
The best report I've seen on this topic so far (combining elements of several other news stories) ran last week in The Washington Post with this headline: "One of the Shakers’ last three members died Monday. The storied sect is verging on extinction." It's a solid report, but does contain a very interesting and important hole. Meanwhile, here's some key material at the top of the story:
Sister Frances Carr died at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine, “after a brief battle with cancer,” according to a statement on the community’s website. It continued, “The end came swiftly and with dignity surrounded by the community and her nieces.” Carr was 89.
Carr was a member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, a Christian group formed in 1747 in Manchester, England. They earned the name the Shakers when critics began calling them “Shaking Quakers” because of “their ecstatic and violent bodily agitation in worship.” ... The Shakers eventually abandoned this particular dancing-style worship, but the congregation adopted the term, according to the Associated Press.
The religious sect moved to the United States when Ann Lee, one of its leaders (known as Mother Ann) who was imprisoned in England for her views, fled to the New World with eight of her followers in 1774. Eventually, the group established its first American community in New Lebanon, N.Y. Slowly, it blossomed into 18 communities across the Eastern United States, including locations in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Massachusetts.
The last remaining Shaker community is at Sabbathday Lake, with two members.
Now, if you know anything else about the Shakers -- other than about their music (think "Simple Gifts") and furniture -- then it is probably a rather logical reason for the movement's decline: