Number 63 (2017)

The Plain People

Edited by Sabrina Völz and Maria Moss

Introduction: Exploring Plain Anabaptist Societies

The main reason for holding an international, interdisciplinary conference on Anabaptist Studies at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg in July 2015 was our underlying perception that German-speaking countries as the lands of origin for the Plain People should have a greater interest in the teaching of and research on the Anabaptists. However, neither the seminars taught nor the body of research conducted in Germany sufficiently reflects the importance of the Plain People—currently the fastest growing religious minority in the United States.

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Anabaptist Influences on American Religious Pluralism

This paper begins by addressing two prevalent misconceptions that plague contemporary popular and scholarly understandings of the Anabaptist tradition. The first is that the early Anabaptist movement stems from a radicalization of the basic theological tendencies and practices of the Magisterial Protestant Reformation. This misconception will be countered by an examination of earlier Anabaptist understandings of divine grace and related theological emphases in comparison to the medieval Catholic and Magisterial Protestant options. The second misconception this paper challenges is the notion that Anabaptist thought and practice represent only minority and isolated tendencies in American life. The paper concludes with a reflection on Anabaptist understandings of community in relation to American religious pluralism.

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The Amish in the Market: Competing against the Odds?

This article connects the economics-of-religion approach with Anabaptist Studies by putting the market at the center of analysis. I will explore two methodological perspectives: first, how religion influences Amish economic development and second, how economic principles determine church growth. I argue that Amish history supports the premise that religion can influence economic development in modern competitive markets. At the same time, I will challenge the assertion that market principles shape the growth of Amish religious communities.

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Keepers at Home? Amish Women and Entrepreneurship

Despite the overt patriarchy of Old Order Amish society, Amish women play a key role in maintaining the economic and social health of family and community. Drawing on qualitative research, including interviews of Amish women entrepreneurs and participant observation, this study explores the relationship between the Amish construction of gender and Amish women’s entrepreneurial activities. Although suggesting that Amish women are more likely to operate businesses that extend their culturally and religiously defined role as husband’s helpmeet, homemaker, and nurturer, it also explores how Amish women’s businesses are contributing to the growing diversity of the Amish world.

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From Plain People to Plains People: Mennonite Literature from the Canadian Prairies

Mennonite writing has become an integral part of the Canadian literary mosaic. Writers such as Rudy Wiebe and Miriam Toews, who hail from the Canadian Prairies, are known even beyond the Canadian borders, and there is a distinct number of younger writers from a Mennonite background who have made their voices heard from the 1990s onwards. This recent growth may seem surprising when we look at the history of Mennonite Canadian writing in English. The first English-language publication by a Mennonite writer to be received by a large non-Mennonite readership was Rudy Wiebe’s Peace Shall Destroy Many, which was published as late as 1962. However, the flow of Mennonite fictional writing in English, especially from the Canadian Prairies, has not ceased since then. In our article we will briefly explore the development of Mennonite writing in English from the beginnings until now. As Mennonites developed as a separate (and separatist) group, willing to journey around the world for their freedom of faith, we want to ask how the writing of Canadian Mennonites reflects this traditional culture. Furthermore, we will analyze the specific cultural, linguistic, and narrative elements in modern Mennonite writing, especially that from the Canadian Prairies. The first part of our paper will deal with traditional Mennonite writing and memory culture, while the second part will study more recent trends towards experimentation and the deconstruction of the tradition.

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Towards ‘New Memoir’: Ira Wagler’s Ex-Amish Life Narrative Growing Up Amish

Memoir writing has become a space of empowerment for those whose voices have been silenced, misrepresented, or not yet understood by the mainstream. Ira Wagler’s New York Times bestseller, Growing Up Amish (2011), can be viewed as a further extension of the body of literature that focuses on oppression, agency, and survival. In this essay I will survey universal literary themes in Wagler’s ex-Amish memoir—such as the father-son and identity conflicts—and situate them in Old Order Amish cultural contexts. I will further explore relevant genre conventions—including Patrick Madden’s theory of ‘new memoir’ from 2014—as well as the narrating I’s voice that reflect the Old Order Amish concept of Gelassenheit and the virtue of humility.

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Sanctifying Leisure: Volunteer Tourism among America’s Amish-Mennonites

Do America’s plain Anabaptists take vacations? At first glance, it seems unlikely that an austere Christian sect would endorse spending large amounts of money on short excursions of pure leisure. Indeed, in a 1930s household expenditures survey that included Amish homes in Lancaster County, PA, Amish were more defined by their non-expenditures on leisure than today’s familiar indicators, such as technological restrictions (Reschly). And yet, vacationing is now routine among many plain Anabaptists. In this study, we explain the phenomenon of Amish-Mennonite international vacationing. The Amish-Mennonites are a branch within the greater Amish religious tradition. They represent the Amish who have chosen to blend evangelical Protestant theology into separatist communalism. They have also reduced the number and severity of norms regarding symbols and social mechanisms of separation, including convenience-oriented technologies and distinctive dress (Anderson, “Beachy Amish-Mennonite”).

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Panel Discussion