I am taking a very laid-back readings seminar this summer at the UI revolving around the question of race and the city. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when the discussion turned to questions relevant to those who frequent this blog. I thought I might offer a short narrative, in part to let those who have never had the “privilege” of a attending a graduate seminar know how random they can be, and also to present some questions raised in my mind as a result of the discussion.The topic for this particular session focused on the racial and class dynamics inherent in the conception and reality of the suburb. One of the books that we read by Dolores Hayden talked about recently planned communities like Seaside, Florida where the Truman Show was filmed. For those of you who didn’t know, the city where Truman lived actually exists as an idealized upper-class community by the ocean. The book also talks about Disney’s idyllic residential development in Florida named Celebration where people can live in sanitized bliss. As we spoke about the class and racial implications involved in the creation of such planned communities, my Professor mentioned the Florida town of Ave Maria of which I had never heard.
For those who haven’t heard of this town either, it was founded by the founder and former owner of Domino’s Pizza in 2005. The small town was created as a model Catholic community. At the center of the community lies the first Catholic University built in the United States in years and at the center of the University lays a Catholic oratory. The founders originally hoped that they could ban the sale of birth control and pornography and the practice of abortions. This stance has since been relaxed as the ACLU threatened to sue over such restrictive practices, but I was fascinated by the drive to create a such a religious community in the 21st Century.
As I was listening to the discussion about Ave Maria and the concerns raised by my fellow classmates, I began to think about how much Ave Maria sounded like Rexburg where I went to school. It has a highly homogenized Mormon population built around a growing religious university and temple. City ordinances discourage the sale of alcohol as well as other vices, while the university pressures its student body to adhere to a rigid code of behavior. I am not looking to criticize BYU-Idaho or Ave Maria. I was just fascinated by the parallels between the two endeavors.
Our discussion ultimately turned to the question of motivation. It was hard for my colleagues to understand why people would want to live in such a way. The question rapidly became: what brings people to create this type of idealized community? We began to consider the validity of utilizing religion as a category of analysis such as gender, race, and class. My question for this post is how can religion be a category of analysis? How would such an analysis work? And as a completely unrelated aside: why haven’t historians produced a good twentieth century urban history of Salt Lake City? I think such a book would be one of the most fascinating reads and research possibilities I can envision.