There are thousands of intentional spiritual communities located around the world. Some are associated with a particular religious tradition, while others are ecumenical or interfaith in nature. These communities vary in size from a handful of people to several thousand. People are attracted to intentional communities for a variety of reasons. Most common is the belief that the sharing of one's daily life with others who have similar beliefs and values will contribute to a deepening of spiritual practice and faithfulness. In this entry, a selection of these communities, representing a variety of religious traditions, will be briefly discussed.
Among the most widespread intentional spiritual communities in the United States are the communities of the Catholic Worker movement. This movement was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York in 1933 in the context of the Great Depression. Catholic Workers are committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, caring for persons in need, and working for social change. Most Catholic Worker communities are located in urban areas, providing hospitality to the homeless and food to the hungry through soup kitchens. Rural communities also exist, which care for the land, grow food for the urban houses, and serve as places of hospitality and spiritual retreat. More than 150 Catholic Worker houses and farms now exist in the United States and in several other countries. While rooted in the traditions of Catholicism, the movement is not officially affiliated with the Catholic Church. Persons of all religious traditions are welcome to be part of Catholic Worker communities.
Another widespread movement of spiritual communities is the L'Arche communities, initiated by Jean Vanier and Catholic priest Thomas Philippe in France in 1964. These communities are made up of persons with mental disabilities and others who choose to share life with disabled persons. L'Arche communities stress the unique value of each person in the eyes of God, especially those who have so often been marginalized by society. Great emphasis is placed on worship, service, forgiveness, and celebration as the bases of communal life. Today there are over 120 L'Arche communities in more than thirty countries, including numerous communities in the United States.
A different movement with a similar name is the Communaute de l'Arche (Community of the Ark) founded in France by Lanza del Vasto in 1948. Del Vasto was a Christian who went to India to live with and learn from Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi gave him the name Shantidas, "Servant of Peace," and sent him back to France to spread the message of nonviolence there. The Community of the Ark is a family-centered movement that is committed to learning how to practice nonviolence in every aspect of life. Deep spiritual practice is seen as the foundation of nonviolence, and time is set apart each day for communal meditation and prayer. The largest Ark communities are located in a mountainous rural area in southern France, where they seek to be relatively self-sufficient through farming, with several smaller rural and urban communities in France and in other Western European countries.
There is also a broader movement of Friends and Allies of the Ark. Members of the Ark movement often take part in public nonviolent actions. The Ark is an interfaith community that is open to persons of all religious traditions who are committed to nonviolence and to the deep practice of their own faith, and who are respectful of the faith of others.
One of the most well-known Buddhist communities in the world is Plum Village, a community in southern France that was founded by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982. Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most popular and respected Buddhist teachers in the world today, has lived in exile from Vietnam since the time of the Vietnam War. Plum Village is made up of Buddhist monks and nuns, Vietnamese refugees and their families, and members of the Order of Interbeing, an international religious order founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. Numerous visitors participate in the life of the community every year, including many persons from North America who come to take part in mindfulness retreats. These retreats focus on teaching people how to be fully present to the present moment, and in so doing to come to be more fully in touch with the wonders and joys of life and to be better able to work to relieve suffering in the world. While these practices are rooted in the Buddhist tradition, persons of all faiths are welcome to participate in the retreats.
Another spiritual community in France that attracts large numbers of visitors, especially young people, is the community of Taize. Taize is an ecumenical Christian monastic community that began in 1940. It is currently made up of about one hundred brothers from more than twenty countries and from a variety of Christian traditions, including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed Christian traditions. Primary themes of the community include peace and reconciliation. For more than 30 years the community has welcomed tens of thousands of young people each summer to take part in worship, Bible study, discussion, and celebration. The young people live in large tents according to language, and join in worship and other activities together throughout the day. The music of Taize, consisting of simple melodic chants, is internationally known, and is used in worship in many churches around the world.
One of the most popular nondenominational international spiritual communities is the Findhorn Community in Scotland. Findhorn is devoted to the cultivation of ecological responsibility and to the recognition of the presence of divinity within all beings. Findhorn espouses no particular creed or doctrine, but rather professes respect for all the world's major religious traditions and welcomes all spiritual seekers to take part in its activities. Thousands of people from around the world come to the community each year to take part in week-long courses focusing on themes of spirituality and ecological sustainability. These are but a few samples of intentional spiritual communities that exist around the world. These examples represent well the many different contexts in which spirituality and religiosity develop and thrive, as well as the many different ways people come together to share and experience the spiritual and the divine.