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Is This Heaven? Iowa's Utopian Communities

The Amana Colonies may be the best-known utopian community in Iowa, but they're far from the only one.

If you’ve spent any time in Iowa then you’ve heard the name ‘Amana’ thrown around. But what about ‘Icarian’?

Saundra Leininger of the French Icarian Colony Foundation explains that the Icarians were one of the only non-religious utopian communities in Iowa. Places like the Amana colonies, the Icarian colonies, Pella and Fairfield prompt the question: why did so many utopian communities settle in Iowa in the first place?

Joseph Weber, Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, says the answer for one group--Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his followers of Transcendental Meditation—was the location.

"There was something very appealing to [Yogi's followers] in the idea of being close to the geographic center of the US. They felt they could influence the entire country more effectively from there."

On this Iowa Week edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with Leininger and Weber. Lanny Haldy, Executive Director of the Amana Heritage Society and Dr. Peter Hoehnle, President and Journal Editor of the Communal Studies Association, also join the conversation.

Editor’s note: All this week, Sept. 22-27, on Iowa Public Radio’s talk shows River to River and Talk of Iowa, we’re exploring some unexpected things about the state as a part of Iowa Week, a series meant to highlight and uncover the things that make Iowa, well, Iowa. What do you think is unexpected? Tweet at the hashtag #IowaWeekor send your notes to our talk show team at news@iowapublicradio.org.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa