The Sociology of Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish

A Bibliography with Annotations, Volume II 1977-1990
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
  • 1. Auflage
  • |
  • erschienen am 14. Mai 1991
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  • 214 Seiten
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978-1-55458-788-9 (ISBN)
This book provides an annotated survey and analysis of the sociological literature concerning three sectarian religious groups: the highly varied Mennonites, the communal Hutterites and the semi-communal anti-industrial Amish.
  • Englisch
  • 0,51 MB
978-1-55458-788-9 (9781554587889)
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The Sociology of Mennonites,
Hutterites and Amish

This book provides an annotated survey and analysis of the sociological literature concerning three sectarian religious groups: the highly varied Mennonites, the communal Hutterites and the semi-communal anti-industrial Amish.

The publishing event of the eighties for students of religious life and thought was the great sixteen volume Encyclopedia of Religion edited by the late Mircea Eliade of the University of Chicago who utilized a multidimensional approach to religion. He assembled a remarkable international team from East and West, North and South using phenomenological comparative, sociological and psychological tools to examine the "great traditions" (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the "small traditions" in traditional African societies, Australian aboriginals, mesoAmericans and many others.

Robert Nisbet's article on the sociology of religion in Eliade noted that we have passed beyond the old controversies and that "the sociological interest in religion is as great today as it has ever been during the past two centuries." He saw "no reason to suppose that the close relation between religion and sociology, now close to two centuries old, will dissolve soon" (p. 391).

Near the end of this paper we will return to Eliade's monumental work to recognize the many ways in which it confirms the vigour of the research on sectarian religion, including the three studied in this book: Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish. Further attention will be drawn to the durability of the typology developed by Weber and Troeltsch, a typology expanded here and there, but definitely not abandoned. Finally, we will note the international nature of the research using the church-sect typology.

Origins of Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish

The Mennonite and Hutterite groups emerged from the radical left wing of the sixteenth-century Reformation. The harsh response from the state churches forced them to change from sub-cultures to counter-cultures. Migration to the American colonies and Canada was an attractive alternative prior to the development of religious toleration in Europe.

The Amish defected from the Mennonites in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century after 172 years. They wanted a tighter and tougher set of restraints against compromise and change. The freedom of North America permitted each group to follow its deepest sense of vocation and direction with a complex differing set of institutional patterns in religion, economics and culture. Consider, now, a brief summary of origins of each group.

The Anabaptist (re-baptizer) Mennonites originated in Switzerland in 1525, advocating separation of church and state, voluntary church membership based on free choice through adult baptism, rejection of military service and de-emphasis on sacramentalism. Persecution, including the death penalty, was the response of the established state churches. Holland was the first country to halt the persecution of Anabaptist-Mennonites. The hostility of the European Catholic and Protestant churches created the urge to migrate to the American colonies, leading to to the first migration in 1684. From these migrants in the American colonies came the first movement to Canada by covered wagons in 1805. Religious freedom in the U.S. and in Canada permitted the Mennonites to develop both conservative and progressive conferences. Later immigration established an ethnic division between the Swiss-South German groups and those of Dutch-Prussian background.

The Amish split from the Mennonites in Europe in 1697, with the earliest Amish migration to America taking place in 1727. In Canada, the Amish migrated directly from Germany in 1821. From that day to this, the Amish and Mennonites tend to live side by side in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario; the U.S. Amish outnumber the Canadian by thirty-three to one.

The Amish institutionalized austerity in every possible way by retaining the costume of the seventeenth-century German Black Forest, developing labour-intensive agriculture and, later, rejecting cars, tractors and electricity in house and barn, dropping out of school after the eighth grade, and boycotting all entitlements under Social Security. With individual ownership of land and home, they stand between the Mennonites and the Hutterites, linked by many networks of mutual aid in a semi-communal society with unlimited liability for the needs of the neighbour in the event of fire, sickness or natural disaster. Family freundschafts are tightly linked in house churches and the close proximity of kinship networks.

The Hutterian Brethren spread from Switzerland to Austria in 1527. Harsh repression led them to Moravia, where the nobles were more tolerant. There Jacob Hutter, in 1833, taught an understanding of Christian faith which included community of goods and services, and communal arrangements for the care and nurture of children, yet the retention of identity with the natural family. After a three-country odyssey, the Hutterites migrated from Russia to the Dakotas in 1874. During serious conflicts with American nationalism and militarism in World War I, many Hutterites moved to Canada. After the war, some returned but many remained, giving present-day Canada the largest number of Hutterite colonies.

Meanwhile, the progressive Hutterian Brethren, originally inspired by Aberhard Arnold of the Student Christian movement in Germany, have established five Bmderhofs in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They have a community of goods but permit advanced education and classical music. They have a publishing industry, including a journal called The Plough, available at Ulster Park, N.Y. 12487.

The Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish are sturdy dissenters and nonconformists more firmly established in North America than any other place in the world. The survival and even the expansion of the Hutterites make it a resilient, Utopian, communal society -all this after 463 years! Other Utopian communities of North America -now extinct -are dramatic proof of something very durable about the Hutterites.

John Hostetler has reminded us that the Amish are remarkably stable with no more defections than any voluntary association of substance in our society. The Mennonites are a leading peace church with a peace and service program which is a model of creativity and support, operating in fifty-five countries of the world with several thousand volunteers. A rich array of educational, cultural, health and economic institutions require advanced education.

Thus, seeing the origins four centuries ago for the Mennonites and Hutterites, and three centuries for the Amish, the question is how to study these three religious societies. It is good to report that several distinguished scholars showed genuine creativity in developing the church-sect typology.

Weber and Troeltsch Come to America Bearing
the Key to Sectarian Research

At the turn of the twentieth century, Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch were colleagues, friends and neighbours at the University of Heidelberg. Both were the kind of towering academic figures in lecture hall and publishing house, which the Germans dearly loved. There were slight differences in fields with law, economics, politics and sociology for Weber; history, theology and sociology for Troeltsch.

Troeltsch's architectonic sweep in his 1,000-page two-volume classic, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (1911 in German, 1931 English translation by Olive Wyon) was acknowledge by Weber in the last footnote of his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for "disposing of things I should have had to investigate in a way which I, not being a theologian could not have done; but partly in order to correct the isolation of this study and to place it in the whole of cultural development."1

The amazing development in the partnership of Weber and Troeltsch was their decision to travel to America together in 1905.2 They had been invited to address "The Scientific World Congress" organized by Professor Hugo Munsterberg in connection with the World's Fair in St. Louis. After discovering the major German community in St. Louis, the two colleagues travelled at length through the southern and eastern states. Their lectures and visits planted in America the church-sect-mystic typology and Weber's highly original reading of the inner-worldly asceticism of the neo-Calvinist formulators of the Protestant ethic: piety, austerity, thrift, hard work, study and aggressive approach to the markets.

A characteristic definition of church and sect by Troeltsch is the following from the Social Teachings,

The Church is the holy institution and the institution of grace, endowed with the effect and result of the work of redemption. It can absorb the masses and adapt itself to the world, since, up to a certain point, it can neglect subjective holiness in exchange for the objective treasures of grace and redemption. The Sect is the free association of Christians who are stronger and more conscious of their faith. They join together as the truly reborn, separate themselves from the world, remain limited to a small circle, emphasize the law instead of grace, and in their ranks set up love as the Christian order of life with greater or lesser radicalism. All of this is regarded as the preparation for and the expectation of the coming Kingdom of God. Mysticism is the intensification and the subjectivization of the thoughts and ideas that have become solidified in...

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