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Modern Homesteading in America: Negotiating Religion, Nature, and Modernity

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This article explores the spiritual dimensions of modern back-to-the-land (or homesteading) practices in contemporary American culture. Drawing on historical and ethnographic research, it examines the ways in which nature is sacralised and everyday life is ritualised by those who have chosen to lead lives of partial self-sufficiency in rural locales. Through an examination of oral and literary source material, and several case studies, this study demonstrates the ways in which nature is constructed as a source of meaning and authority for those who are disaffected from traditional religious institutions. This article also seeks to unfold the complexities involved in living `close to nature', such as the dangers in seeing 'natural living' as the only standard for the moral life and the tendency for 'back to the land' practices to be advocated by those whose class location is a privileged one. The analysis offered here is intended as a point of access into broader tensions in American culture: between traditional and alternative forms of religious practice, between the idealisation of rural life and the realities of rural living, and between the desire for freedom and the desire for self-imposed constraint in the face of modernity.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religion Middlebury College Middlebury, Vermont 05753, USA, Email: rgould@middlebury.edu

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