The religious history of the period is a dramatic one. Christianity, which for more than a thousand years had been represented throughout all of Western Europe by one church, the Roman Catholic Church, experienced a tremendous upheaval during the 16th century. The first overt action of revolt came in 1517 when Luther defied the authority of Rome. That marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the consequences of which were that Europe was divided into numerous divergent sects and into warring camps. Actually, all of that turmoil occurred after More wrote his Utopia, but the causes of the Reformation were of long standing and had been a source of concern to conscientious Christians for at least two centuries. Among the principal evils alleged in the attacks against the church were arbitrary exercise of papal authority, greed of the clergy as revealed in the selling of pardons and of church offices, and the traffic in holy relics. Intelligent people were indignant over the propagation of superstitions to anesthetize the common people, and social critics were bitter over the enormous opulence of the church amid the poverty and squalor of the majority of Christians.
In August 2012, Alderman joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee after serving as a professor of geography at East Carolina University since 2000. He recently completed service on the Council of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) as Regional Councillor and Chair of the Association's Publications Committee. Alderman is the former President of the Southeastern Division of the AAG and a former co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Southeastern Geographer.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy, the most successful and influential American author writing in the utopian vein, presents a vision of a glorious future society. Julian West, a young, aristocratic Bostonian, falls asleep under a hypnotic trance in 1887, but through a remarkable set of circumstances, is awakened in the year 2000. His host family in this new age introduces him to their amazing society, explaining their institutions and the rationale for their system.
Utopians do not like to engage in war. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid, but they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. They are upset if they achieve victory through bloodshed. The main purpose of war is to achieve that which, if they had achieved already, they would not have gone to war over.
Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels. In this work of 1726, which was an immediate bestseller, Lemuel Gulliver actually visits four different fantasy worlds, but the one that’s especially interesting here is the world of the Houyhnhnms, horses endowed with reason and speech, and a world in which humans are yobbish Yahoos flinging their muck around. Gulliver interprets the Houyhnhnms’ society as a utopian world, though whether Swift is inviting us to agree, or to distance ourselves from Gulliver, remains a contentious point.
Logan's Run (1976) is a science fiction film based on a novel of the same name by writers William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. One of the most celebrated dystopian movies of all time depicts theme that was explored in many literary and film projects – a seemingly idyllic futuristic society encased in a dome in which entire human civilization lives a pleasant life without any limitations or hardships. But this world has a single dark flaw – everyone’s lifespan is limited to 30 years, and the majority of people willfully accepts this fact. The film follows Logan 5 (played by Michael York), one of the enforcement officers that captures “runners” - fugitives who decided to run away from the government so that they could be live longer. His normal life is turned upside down when he is tasked to infiltrate a group of runners and their hidden sanctuary, but instead of illegal operation he expected to find, he discovers the entrance to the beautiful untouched outside world.
More was beheaded in July 1535 and his property was attained due to his refusal to subscribe to the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. More believed Henry's marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon was valid. He believed that by marrying Anne the King of England was not in obedience to God's law. More believed the church should be governed from Rome rather than be ruled by the King of England. He hated Martin Luther condemning him to hell. More was inimical to the Protestant Reformation. His faith was in the old church which had governed Western religion for a millenium.
Plato, Republic. In a sense, the utopian genre might be said to begin with Plato’s Republic, in which he sets out his ideal society (famously, no poets were allowed). The Republic sees Socrates debating with a number of other people about the nature of justice and the ideal city-state. The book also discusses various possible forms of government, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis. Although he never completed it, this utopian novel by one of the great philosophers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras is well worth reading. It was published posthumously in 1627 and outlines a perfect society, Bensalem (its name suggesting Jerusalem) founded on peace, enlightenment, and public spirit. Available in Three Early Modern Utopias Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines (Oxford World’s Classics) along with More’s Utopia and another early utopian novel, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.