Non-Religious Monastery-Like Living?
October 13, 2010 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Are there monastic type orders that are not affiliated with religions?

I'm curious as to whether there are any communities of people (men or women or both) that have made a decision to live in a community with the outward impression of a monastery but where the founding basis is not one of religion. I'm not sure what the organizing principle would be other than general service or learning, but it seems to me that the scientific or atheist communities might have constructed such a community.

Anyone heard of anything like that (outside of the book "Anathem" that is)?
posted by Inkoate to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
At different points in its history the university would qualify, including in some aspects today. I'm thinking of academic ritual, hierarchy, relative isolation, and (especially in the humanities) textual exegesis, and of course the vow of poverty...
posted by gerryblog at 1:35 PM on October 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I agree w/ gerryblog. Academia, especially when centered in a small college town, seems to fit many of the qualifications.
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on October 13, 2010

Look at the history of the Princeton Graduate College (where Princeton's graduate students live)
posted by vincele at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2010

Many of the early kibbutzim were not religiously Jewish, and in fact some were staunchly atheist. There's even an unattributed quote in that Wikipedia page that calls them "monasteries without God." These days, though, I believe they're mostly state-subsidized private farms.
posted by theodolite at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2010

They're called intentional communities.
posted by proj at 2:00 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might also consider Antarctic research stations to be "scientific monasteries" - they're isolated for long periods of time and are founded around the pursuit of knowledge. They're not, of course, self-sufficient in any way, if that's a necessary condition.
posted by theodolite at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

martial arts communities (or to a certain extent, even western style armies) can be based around training and a monastic lifestyle that includes diet, meditation, and the giving up of material comforts, without any specific spiritual beliefs being invoked. Plenty of people are involved in martial arts alongside life, only part time, but there are places where one lives and practices full time...

Not sure if that fits your criteria, but it has a pseudo-spiritual side that something like academic or artistic communities may not, since those are usually more focused on producing something good than living well for its own sake.
posted by mdn at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2010

Response by poster: These are all good pointers. Thanks to all.

Is there a sense of "taking vows" that goes along with any of these, as would be the case in a Catholic or Buddhist monastery? I guess I'm looking for the formality and dedication that goes along with the more traditional orders
posted by Inkoate at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2010

The military.
posted by eccnineten at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Deep Springs College
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:46 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

You'll be interested in the history of the Béguinage.

Pilsdon is religious, but it isn't religion that binds it.

Eco communal dwellings tend to be based on practical need and ideology, but they're less well-defined as institutional structures. Some drift in many directions, some are more organised (Brithdir Mawr) but people don't usually spend their entire lives there, let alone take vows or submit to someone in the position of an abbess, which would be the interesting thing here — a defined community with a hierarchy of leadership and development, slightly set back from the world.
posted by westerly at 3:22 PM on October 13, 2010

The training institutions in Japanese sumo wrestling, heya, have some monastic features - extremely feudal structure in that the new recruits massage, shop for, cook for etc the higher-ups, and the higher up the rankings you climb, the more privileges/fewer duties you have, communal eating and sleeping, rigid schedule of training and hard exercises - mortification of the flesh - and a strict code of behaviour, ethics and honour (traditionally anyway, its possibly falling apart now). Roots in Shinto but not explicitly religious.
posted by runincircles at 3:32 PM on October 13, 2010

I'm sorely tempted to completely discount the academy, as its institutional origins are religious, even if the academy itself isn't much anymore. A bunch of monks who abandoned the faith doesn't really seem to satisfy the criteria of a monastic-like organization that was founded on secular premises.

Same goes for a lot of the East Asian commune-like societies. It's not the Christian religion, to be sure, but there's still a pretty strong spiritual tone to the proceedings.

I think you'll find that spirituality may actually be an essential ingredient of a community that even loosely resembles a monastery. We're talking about a group of people that basically agree to spend every waking minute together. That's pretty damn intense. Unless the community is bound together by some pretty fundamental commitments shared amongst the entire population, it isn't going to last. Pretty much every attempt of which I'm aware that has set out to emulate a monastic communitywithout the trappings of faith--most of the hippie communes, etc.--has failed within a generation or two, largely because the community lacked the sort of internal cohesion that holy orders bring to the table. The ones that do survive tend to have commitments which, while not specifically spiritual as such, do rise to the level of what one might plausibly describe as religious, as they occupy the same kind of metaphysical and moral territory as most traditional religions.
posted by valkyryn at 4:25 PM on October 13, 2010

I would not utterly rule out the option of doing a temporary retreat at a Catholic Monastery, unless there is an overriding conflict. You wouldn't have to swear all of the vows, but you would have to get out of bed pretty early and do some work, kinda like Anathem. (Uh, and pray, or sit in on Mass). What kind of time frame are you thinking of?
posted by ovvl at 5:36 PM on October 13, 2010

Universities is a good one, but in the West, at least, they were of course founded in religion.

There are lots of communes based on living near nature, avoiding contact with society, making your own food/clothes etc which require a fair amount of asceticism and philosophy, I would imagine.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:12 AM on October 14, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, just to clarify, I'm not looking for somewhere to go myself. I know that when I want to go on a retreat, I will be ending up at a nearby buddhist monastery, but I was curious about what was out there.

Thanks to everyone, these are interesting and thought provoking answers!
posted by Inkoate at 6:11 AM on October 14, 2010

Nudist communities?
posted by Grafix at 12:22 PM on October 14, 2010

proj: "They're called intentional communities"

This. You can find out about ICs around the world (but mostly in the US) at the Fellowship for International Communities website. There's a mix of religious and non-religious there, but many/most are non-religious. Common themes around which such communities unite:

  • environmentalism (a big one - an "intentional community" can be as casual as a group of people who share common living space with an eye towards conservation)
  • agriculture (often goes hand-in-hand with environmentalism)
  • feminism
  • shared parenting resources (may go hand-in-hand with feminism or may not; predominately geared toward single mothers)
  • non-religious spirituality (either ecumenical communities or explicitly non-religious communities, usually united by an interest in mysticism)

    Note as well that many "new monastic" religious communities like The Simple Way in Philadelphia, while founded on ecumenical Christianity, are usually very accepting and may even admit persons of different faiths.

  • posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2010

    Fellowship for Intentional Communities, rather.
    posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2010

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