The body of love: Conceiving perfection in the Oneida Community

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Philip P. Arnold


Perfection, Oneida Community, Noyes, John Humphrey, American religion, New York

Subject Categories



This dissertation considers the tension between the spiritual and the material in the Oneida Community. Rather than reading this tension as a matter of theological inconsistency on the part of Noyes or failings on the part of Community members, I instead interrogate why such a tension was meaningful and indispensable within the Community. I argue that a complex understanding of the relationship between spirit and matter grounded the Community's religious beliefs and practices and even unified belief and practice. By analyzing long-standing Community practices of love, labor, and mutual criticism with an understanding of foundational theological considerations of time, the Community's later radical practice of stirpiculture, or scientific human propagation, can be more effectively conceptualized. Making use of Daniel Boyarin's perspective on rabbinic Judaism as "dialectical" rather than "dualistic" in its attitude toward the human being, I argue that the Oneida Community maintained a similarly "dialectical" attitude, one that was remained theologically consistent throughout its history. In viewing the human as essentially both physical and spiritual, the bodies of Community members became sites of spiritual significance, as those bodies were reformed, reorganized, and even newly (pro)created in order to realize their complete and perfect potentials. In seeking to overcome the problems of life on earth by imagining and emulating the future kingdom of heaven, the Community thus did not seek to supersede or erase matter, but to transform and perfect it.


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