"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Christian Intentional Communities

Amidst the myriad of flaws and lacunae (enumerated here) in Rod Dreher's little book, none is more fatal than its romanticization of local community. As I noted in 2015, I have some personal experience, over more than a decade, of a variety of forms of Christian intentional communities in several places and the many difficulties they experience, especially when it comes to open, honest, charitable acknowledgement, let alone resolution, of internal conflicts. They can, to be sure, offer wonderful gifts, as I experienced from my community after I very nearly died in 1996 when I was hit by a bus in Ottawa while riding my bike. It took me nearly a year to recover--three months in hospital, and six months learning to walk again--and during that time I had wonderful support from my community. But I also saw first-hand, there and in other communities, how Christians are tempted to ignore serious problems, thereby making them much worse.

We have not had, until now, a lot of research into Christian intentional communities. But a new book looks sure to begin the overdue process of filling in some gaps about how such communities are structured and function: Religious Vitality in Christian Intentional Communities: A Comparative Ethnographic Study by Mark Killian (Lexington Books, 2017), 226pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Through ethnographic research, Killian examines vitality in Philadelphia and Berea, two Christian Intentional Communities whose participants live in close proximity with one another to achieve religious values. Pulling from Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration, Killian argues that the vitality of both communities cannot be reduced to deterministic structural, individual, or organizational causes. Rather, vitality in these communities is affected by all of these causes in relationship to one another. In other words, it’s not that each explanation “matters” (e.g., social structures matter, organizational behaviors matter, individual religious choices matter), but that these explanations matter to each other (e.g., social structures matter to individual choices, individual choices matter to organizational behaviors, and social structures matter to organizational choices, etc.). To make this argument, Killian develops the idea of the vitality nexus—the interconnected relationship between the various explanations of religious vitality.

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