Tag Archives: Amish

Spring books preview: religion

Seasonal catalog cover spring 2016We’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this spring—and we’re pleased to start off the new year with a series of posts that highlight our forthcoming titles. Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Spring 2016 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on all pre-publication orders. Today we feature spring books on religion; click on the title to read more about the book or to place an order:

noltThe Amish
A Concise Introduction
Steven M. Nolt

trollingerRighting America at the Creation Museum
Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr.

weaver-zercher16Martyrs Mirror
A Social History
David L. Weaver-Zercher

Use discount code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount on pre-publication orders for JHUP’s spring 2016 titles.
To order, click on the book titles above or call 800-537-5487.

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Filed under American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Cultural Studies, History, Publishing News, Religion

Amish quilts: For every rule, there is an exception

Guest post by Janneken Smucker

Since the publication of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon last fall, we’ve experienced a flurry of important exhibits and books about quilts. It’s no surprise that readers and museumgoers flock to these books and events. Quilts feel good. They bring on nostalgic feelings of warmth and family, even to those of us who did not grow up in a home full of quilts. That’s part of why quilts—whether antique art pieces, contemporary pieces produced by Amish cottage industries, modern art works, or factory made bedcovers—have long had such appeal.

One of the newest additions to the quilt reading list this fall is Roderick Kiracofe’s Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000featuring selections from his collection of eclectic quilts, often produced from scraps and leftovers with surprising patterns, fabrics, and combinations. This has gotten me thinking about unconventional and unexpected Amish quilts. Ever since outsiders to Amish communities “discovered” these objects in the late 1960s and early 1970s, we’ve developed preconceived notions about what constitutes an Amish quilt, based on colors, patterns, and fabrics. As I explore in Amish Quilts, it’s actually quite challenging to pin down what is an Amish quilt because of the diversity among Amish settlements, the changes to Amish fashions over time, and the individual quiltmakers who liked to push boundaries and disregard conformity within their communities. For every supposed “rule” about what makes an Amish quilt Amish, there are many exceptions.

So, what makes an Amish quilt unconventional? It could be pattern, technique, colors, overall style, or even function. Some unconventional Amish quilts might actually be quite conventional to the rest of us; they just don’t fit what we expect from Amish quiltmakers. This is true of this cheery Basket of Flowers quilt, made by an unknown Amish maker who adapted a Mountain Mist pattern likely acquired by purchasing a roll of quilt batting—the soft inner layer of a quilt.

Basket of Flowers, unknown Amish maker, c. 1935. Possibly made in Ohio. International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Basket of Flowers, unknown Amish maker, c. 1935. Possibly made in Ohio. International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The pattern is quite conventional for the 1930s among the wider community of quiltmakers. But instead of the bubbly printed fabrics common to quilts of the Depression era, this Amish maker used the commercial pattern in a decidedly Amish setting, with black sashing and a wide outer blue border.

Other quilts we as outsiders might consider unconventional among the Amish may have in fact been quite conventional; they just did not fit the aesthetic of tastemakers who shaped the market for antique Amish quilts in the 1970s and 1980s. This is true of this blue and white sailboat quilt, as well as the many blue and white quilts—called “everyday” or “summer” quilts by some Amish—made since at least the 1920s in many Amish settlements.

Sailboat, unknown Amish maker, c. 1930-1950. Possibly made in Ohio. International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Sailboat, unknown Amish maker, c. 1930-1950. Possibly made in Ohio. International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Few collectors were interested in these light-colored quilts as they did not fit the aesthetic of those bedcoverings some Amish called “old dark quilts”—made from darker blues, purples, browns, and deep reds, which appealed to art collectors due to their resemblance to modern art.

Perhaps truly unconventional, at least among Amish quilts that have survived into museum collections, is the hap or comforter—a heavy utilitarian bedcover. Rarely did such objects come on the market, and more seldom still did a museum curator select one for a collection. But the unconventional and totally remarkable collection of Amish quilts at the Indiana State Museum, first acquired by David Pottinger, features not just quilts that look like abstract paintings, but any and every quilt Pottinger’s Amish neighbors in northern Indiana would sell him.

Nine Patch Four Patch, knotted comforter or “hap,” unknown Amish maker, LaGrange County, Indiana. From the collection of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

Nine Patch Four Patch, knotted comforter or “hap,” unknown Amish maker, LaGrange County, Indiana. From the collection of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

This hap is just one of many quilts in this collection that demonstrate the great diversity of Amish quiltmaking from just one geographic area.

The Amish indeed are a religious group that does many things strictly by tradition—by convention. But quilts made by individuals from this group can be quite unconventional, both by our standards and by theirs.

smuckerJanneken Smucker is an assistant professor of history at West Chester University. A quiltmaker herself, she is author of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon, now available from JHU Press. 

To read The New York Times 2013 Holiday Gift Guide’s review of Amish Quilts, click here.

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Filed under Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, For Everyone

Why the Amish Sing: Songs of Solidarity and Identity

Guest post by D. Rose Elder

elderThe media typically portray Amish characters as either disapproving, humorless, and colorless adults rigidly humming a solemn hymn to keep worldly thoughts at bay or conflicted, cocky, out-of-control rumspringa adolescents listening to ear-splitting rock and testing all the limits of decency. Of course, TV and the movies are by definition fantasy. But for many curious non-Amish these images lurk in their minds as at least partial truth.

While interviewing Amish families for my book Why the Amish Sing, I discovered a fuller picture. First and most importantly, to quote an Amish friend, “We’re human just like you are. We have the same temptations. We have to choose.” Music is one area where the Amish work at holding back the wild horses of modernity and secularism by carefully selecting the texts and tunes that nurture godliness, kindness and mutuality. I argue that music serves as one of the scaffoldings by which the Amish build and maintain boundaries and healthy community structures.

The soundtrack of an Amish life includes many noises from the modern world. Cars zip by even on remote back roads. A windmill or pump rubs and grinds, screeching metal-on-metal. The roaring whirr of a lawn mower shatters the silence. Nature’s sounds of birds trilling or cooing welcome the dawn. Horses nicker, and cows pleadingly moo, “Milk me.”

Human voices also adorn an Amish person’s day. A grandmother calmly provides directions for safely using scissors. A father petitions God for breath, strength, and the ability to forgive. A daughter’s lilt leads a favorite family song. High-pitched children’s voices gleefully encourage each other on the baseball field or buzz in loud whispers around the potbelly stove before school starts. An auctioneer coaxes up the price of a dozen eggs. In casual settings, several verses of “How Great Thou Art” ring in the air, or a German text about being a faithful child is sung to the tune of “Just As I Am” in unison or well-rehearsed harmony.

Last winter, a lovely Amish couple, Atlee and Mary Miller, invited some friends over and allowed my friend Steve Hebrock, a sound engineer, and me to record their singing. When we arrived, Atlee, his son, Daniel, and two friends, Steve and Jerry, were joking and amusing each other with personal stories. Mary joined us. We became caught up in the air of delight. This group of men was comfortable with each other with no social lubricant other than stove-brewed black coffee. Atlee told of his bus ride from his military induction appointment when the announcement came that world leaders had signed the armistice ending World War II. Steve mentioned a favorite moment in the chicken house with his son. The men enthusiastically sang Steve’s song, ““Ich war ein kleines Kindlein,” a meditation on the human condition. “What have I accomplished while I have been on this earth?” the singers asked.

I was a small child born into this world;

As to my time of death

I have nothing to say what happens on the earth;

I have created nothing in my time on earth.

The words require participants to accept their humanity and to devote themselves to their Creator. Mary, Atlee’s wife, adds that the words of that text are very touching.
Sung a third again as fast, the tune would sound like a cousin of the haunting British folk tune, “Barbara Allen.” But, at the pace the men sang, it is a bittersweet introspection that ends on a heartbreaking modal (mixolydian) flat ti (lengthened for emphasis), then do, re, do. Singing together provides the setting for Amish friends to share serious memories and keep their community’s stories vibrant.

D. Rose Elder is an associate professor of ethnomusicology and rural sociology and coordinator of humanities and social sciences at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. She is the author of Why the Amish Sing: Songs of Solidarity and Identity, recently published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

This post has also been published today on the Amish Wisdom Blog.


Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies

Q&A with Donald Kraybill

From the Preface to the forthcoming Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers:

Amish. Hate. Crimes. These three words suddenly linked arms in the fall of 2011 when a string of beard-cutting attacks startled the Amish community in eastern Ohio. The fact that the perpetrators were Amish generated an avalanche of news stories about Amish-on- Amish violence as the bizarre story played out until the defendants were sentenced in February 2013. Pundits and late-night talk shows alike poked fun at the Amish—these supposed saints who now had streaks of sin on their faces. Even a cartoonist joined in the humor by depicting a distraught Santa Claus with only stubbles on his chin, waiting in vain for children to sit on his lap. Apart from beards, bonnets, and buggies, nonviolence is a cardinal signature of Amish identity. That a band of supposedly pacifist Amish had assaulted their own people shattered all the Amish stereotypes in the popular imagination.

When this cultural brawl finally ended, ten men and six women from a maverick Amish community near Bergholz, Ohio, were behind bars. A federal jury found them guilty of multiple charges involving conspiracy, hate crimes, kidnapping, lying, and obstructing justice. Most shocking of all, the three Bergholz clergymen—Bishop Samuel Mullet and his two ministers—were among those charged and convicted. The jurors found evidence that the assailants had attacked the Amish victims because of their religion.

Apart from etching violence into the annals of Amish history, the case set a new legal precedent—under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act—for its first-time conviction of assailants for religion-driven hate crimes. Moreover, it was also the first one within the same faith community. In addition, because a hate crime conviction requires evidence of “bodily injury,” the jury had to judge whether cutting a beard qualified as disfigurement, which is one type of bodily injury. The verdicts stretched the definition of bodily injury for hate crimes and the nature of acceptable evidence for interstate commerce—one requirement for federal jurisdiction and prosecution of hate crimes. Some legal experts considered the interstate commerce evidence tenuous in the Bergholz case, and others have even raised questions about some aspects of the constitutionality of the Shepard-Byrd Act.

With his new book coming out in August, Donald Kraybill has stopped by the JHUP blog to answer a few questions about the Amish beard cutting scandal which shook the Amish community in late 2011.

Q: How did you first learn about the Ohio Amish beard cutting story?

A: I heard about it on various media in September 2011. I thought it was a joke at first or some kind of misunderstanding.

Q: Have beard cutting attacks happened before in Amish history?

A: This is a precedent. It never happened before these attacks by the Bergholz Amish community. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve come across in researching and writing on the Amish of North America over the last 35 years.

Q: How did you get involved?

A: I was contracted in the spring of 2012 by the U. S. Department of Justice to assist them in the prosecution. I helped them to understand Amish beliefs and practices. In September 2012 I served as an expert witness for five hours during the three-week federal trial in Cleveland, which included 16 Amish defendants.

Q: Why did you write the book?

A: For several reasons. This was such a benchmark case in Amish history. I wanted to understand it better and also document it for historical purposes. I was also curious about the background of the Bergholz Amish which executed the attacks. Who were they? How were they transformed from a peace-loving group into a violent one? Were they, in fact, really Amish?

Q: How did you answer that question in the book?

A: I provide an abundance of evidence that shows many ways in which the Bergholz clan strayed from Orthodox Amish faith. Throughout the trial they maintained that they were Amish. They still use horse and buggy transportation and dress Amish-like. Of course there are no laws that prevent any group from claiming the Amish brand. In my judgment they are not Amish, at least not according to any conventional standard of Amish belief and practice.

Q: How do other Amish people view the Bergholz clan?

A: The 65,000 other Amish people in Ohio were greatly embarrassed and shamed by the beard cutting attacks. The attackers even included members of the Bergholz clergy. Another reason I wrote the book was to vindicate the thousands of sincere and devout Amish people in Ohio and other states whose Amish identity was maligned by these attacks

Q: Why did the federal Department of Justice become involved in what might appear as a petty Amish quarrel?

A: There were nine victims, sixteen offenders, and five different attacks in various counties. It would have been difficult to undertake multiple prosecutions in different counties for a host of reasons which I explain in the book. The federal prosecutors argued that the nature of the crimes and the fact that they involved interstate commerce made it possible to prosecute the offenders under the 2009 Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Act. The jury agreed and convicted the sixteen defendants with some 87 different criminal charges.

Q: What surprised you most about the story?

A: The case is now under appeal to the sixth circuit federal appellate court. Recently the national Anti-Defamation League pulled together a coalition of 40 different groups vigilant about civil rights abuses. These groups filed a friend of the court brief urging the appellate court to uphold the convictions. The coalition groups view the Amish convictions of federal hate crimes as a benchmark that will help to protect many other Americans from hate crime attacks. The case is especially pertinent for attacks motivated by the hatred of a person’s religion, sexual orientation, race, gender, or disability.

Q: What is the most important take away of the book?

A: The sad irony is that the hate crime convictions of some former pacifist Amish have helped to reinforce the long-standing American tradition that citizens are legally protected to practice their religious faith according to their conscience without fear of being attacked by those who may despise their religion.

Kraybill_RenegadeDonald B. Kraybill is a Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than a dozen books on Amish culture, including The Riddle of Amish Culture, The Amish, and the upcoming book on the Bergholz Barbers, Renegade Amish.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Current Affairs, Law, Religion

March events feature Shakespeare, Lindsay, Einstein, and more

March roars in with a variety of events suitable for lionizing, and JHU Press authors, editors, and staff will keep busy all month. Stephen H. Grant loved the idea that the official publication date for Collecting Shakespeare would be the Ides of March, and several events around that date welcome his book. At Hunter College, Joseph P. Viteritti and a group of very distinguished panelists will discuss the legacy of New York Mayor John Lindsay to launch the publication of Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream. And Michael C. C. Adams will discuss and sign Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War in the latest Virtual Book Signing™  hosted by Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop. A Virtual Book Signing™ is a live and online book talk and signing event webcast from the bookstore and streamed round the world. Customers both in the store and online can listen to the presentation, ask questions, and then buy books and see them signed by the author. Please spread the word about JHUP’s March line-up!

weaver-zercher rev comp.indd6 March 2014, 11:30 a.m.

Book Talk & Signing
– Valerie Weaver-Zercher
Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure
of Amish Romance Novels

Common Hour, Mayser Gymnasium
Franklin & Marshall College
Admission: Free and open to the public; information here.

 grant.collecting11 March 2014, 12:30 p.m.
Hopkins Club Lunch & Lecture – Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $20; members call the Club to make reservations; non-members contact Jack Holmes at 410-516-6928 to attend as a guest of the Press.

mace512 March 2014, 7:30–9:00 pm
Book Talk & Signing Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.
The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss
The Kaleidoscope Program
Roland Park Country School
Baltimore, MD
The author’s JHUP’s best-selling book discusses “The Ethical Issues of Alzheimer Disease and Memory Loss” in the popular RPCS speaker series.

Admission: $30; call 410-323-5500 to register.

gimbel13 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing – Steven Gimbel
Einstein’s Jewish Science
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $28; call 410 -516 -8516 or register online here.

14 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
One More Page Books
2200 N. Westmoreland St.
Arlington, VA
Admission: Free; call 703-300-9746 or visit www.onemorepagebooks.com.

adams.hell15 March 2014, 12:00–1:30 p.m.
Virtual Book Signing™
– Michael C. C. Adams
Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War
The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop
Chicago, IL
Admission: Free and open to the public; participate at the book shop or online; more information here.

osteen19 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Mark Osteen
Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream
Loyola University Maryland, Knott Hall
Baltimore, MD
This program is sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Baltimore.
Admission: Free with RSVP to baltopbkalum@yahoo.com.

kelly20 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing – Cindy Kelly
Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD JHU Press author Cindy Kelly will present “A Close Look at Baltimore’s Battle Monument.”
Admission: $28; call 410-516 -8516 or register online here.

vitteriti20 March 2014, 5:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Joseph P. Viteritti
Summer in the City:
John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream

Hunter College, The Kaye Playhouse
New York, NY
Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosts a launch event for Summer in the City featuring Joseph P. Viteritti, Sam Roberts, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, Vincent Cannato, Lizabeth Cohen, and Richard Ravitch.
Admission: Free, reservation required; call 212-396-7931.

20 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
Drama Book Shop
250 W. 40th St.
New York, NY
Admission: Free; call 212-944-0595 or email info@dramabookshop.com.

kilcup26 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Angela Sorby
Over the River and Through the Wood:
An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century
American Children’s Poetry

Boswell Book Company
Milwaukee, WI
Admission: Free; 414-332-1181 or visit online.

28 March 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

Folger Shakespeare Library
Washington, D.C.
Admission: Members only; for information, call 202-675-0302.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Baltimore, Biography, Book talks, Dementia and Memory Loss, General Science, Geriatrics and Gerontology, Kids, Literature, Mental Health, Physics, Poetry, Politics, Urban Studies

On the Amish and Shunning

On Tuesday, February 4, PBS’s  American Experience will air The Amish: Shunned. In light of this documentary, we asked Karen Johnson-Weiner, one of the co-authors of Johns Hopkins University Press’s The Amish, to explain the practice of shunning.

Guest post by Karen M. Johnson-Weiner

In Lancaster County, a group of us ate dinner with an Amish couple who had two children and several grandchildren who were all no longer Amish. The pair showed us pictures of the wedding of one of their (no longer Amish) sons. For me, this brought home the diversity of ways in which Amish communities deal with those who leave. I once arrived at a Swartzentruber (ultraconservative Amish) home to find the mother in tears because her son had run away in the middle of the night. It was odd to be consoling my friend because her son had left to live like I do. My Swartzentruber friend would never have pictures of a child’s English wedding (English, as the Amish call them, are outsiders who speak English), much less show them to outsiders. Another Swartzentruber couple no longer mentions a married daughter who, with her family, joined a conservative Mennonite church; they haven’t seen the two grandchildren born since the daughter left their community.

For the Amish, excommunication (Bann) and shunning (Meidung) are community-wide tough love. When someone is baptized and joins an Amish church-community, that person makes a vow to God to embrace the Christian faith as practiced by that community, a congregation of those who have made this same promise. If someone breaks this vow by joining a different group or even leaving the Amish altogether, then others in the community are left with no option but to excommunicate and shun that person. To do otherwise would be to break their own vows to God. Church members hope that the shunning will help those who leave realize the seriousness of the step they are taking and recognize its eternal consequences. Furthermore, the discipline of shunning protects the integrity of the church-community.

How a church-community carries out the shunning of those who leave is a distinguishing characteristic, one that can put one Amish group at odds with others. For example, the Swartzentruber Amish trace their roots to a schism in the large Old Order Amish community in Holmes County, Ohio, over the unwillingness of the majority to excommunicate and shun members who joined an Amish congregation that was different from  the one in which they had been baptized. Nearly forty years later, in the 1950s, the Holmes County Old Order community experienced another schism when the majority of church members agreed not to excommunicate and shun members who left the church if they affiliated with another plain, Amish-related group. Again, more conservative-minded churches separated in order to keep “strong Bann,” a strict shunning.

Today, the Swartzentruber Amish and other very conservative Amish groups continue to shun members who leave the baptismal community for a different group, regardless of whether the group is plain, Amish, or Amish-related. There are several types of Swartzentruber congregations, and they don’t “fellowship” with each other (“dien” in Pennsylvania Dutch): in other words, ministers of one group will not preach at services of the other, and members of one group can’t marry members of the other. Thus, when a Swartzentruber joins a different Swartzentruber community, that person will be excommunicated and shunned. (Of course, having been baptized into one community, that person would not be welcome in another because the groups respect each other’s excommunications!) Only if errant church members come back to make confession in the church and rejoin the community are they again welcome. Otherwise, they are not invited to any family gatherings, nor are they welcome to visit their parents or siblings.

In contrast, a member of a less conservative Old Order church community noted that someone would be shunned if he or she left to join a Mennonite church, but not if he or she went to another Old Order Amish church, even if that other church was not one with which they “fellowshipped.” Furthermore, less conservative Amish, unlike the Swartzentrubers, may still be able to engage socially with those who have been excommunicated. One woman told me that her sister, who had left the Amish world entirely, could still eat with the family although she couldn’t sit at the same table.

The percentage of members that stays Amish fluctuates by group. In one group, it could be 60 percent; in another, 95 percent. Ninety percent is the gross national average. Ironically, the Swartzentrubers have the higher retention. The “new order” tend to have a lower retention rate. The closer someone is to the outside world, the easier it is for them to step over the line.


Karen M. Johnson-Weiner is a professor of anthropology at SUNY-Potsdam, coauthor of  The Amish, and author of Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools, published by the JHU Press, and New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State. 

Interested in knowing more about the Amish now? Check out our two digital shorts taken from The Amish, From Rumspringa to Marriage and The Amish and Technology, for only $2.99 each.

For more information on the Amish and shunning click here.

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Filed under Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, Film / Documentary

Q&A with the authors of THE AMISH

kraybillRead on for an informative, sometimes surprising Q&A with Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, authors of The Amish, the definitive portrayal of the Amish in America in the twenty-first century.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: Mainstream Americans are fascinated by the Amish—and so are we. But despite the rise of Amish-themed tourism, television shows, and romance novels, there is surprisingly little authoritative information available about them. Although there are books about the Amish in specific locations or particular practices, there was no book that provided a comprehensive picture of the enormous diversity of Amish life. There are more than forty types of Amish in 460 communities across North America. We’ve spent more than a quarter century getting to know these people, and wanted to share the remarkable diversity and resilience we’ve found.

Q: What do you think would most surprise the average American about Amish life/culture?

A: Their friendliness and humor when you learn to know them. How satisfied they are even without the latest household conveniences and online technology. Also, people would be surprised by their creativity and inventiveness when it comes to technology. They’re not dour folks left over from the 19th century.

Q: Is the Amish population shrinking?

A: No, the Amish are growing rapidly. Their population doubles about every 20 years, and today they number more than 275,000. So they are thriving even in the midst of a hypermodern, high-tech society.

Q: What exactly is Rumspringa?

A: Rumspringa is the time when Amish youth can “run around” and socialize with their peers away from the watchful eyes of parents. This typically occurs between the age of sixteen and when they marry, which is usually around 20-22 years of age. Rumspringa is a time to find a spouse and to decide if they want to join the Amish church and make a lifetime commitment to it. During this time youth live at home, but on weekends hang out with their friends. Most of them are not yet baptized church members, so they are not yet accountable to the rules of the church. In some communities rowdy groups engage in “worldly activities” which may include driving cars, using alcohol, and participating in the nightlife of public entertainment. In other communities these activities rarely happen during Rumspringa.

Q: Why do you think the Amish have become the darlings of Reality TV?

A: For starters, the Amish are interesting because they appear so different from the rest of us. Outsiders have trouble imagining that anyone would be satisfied living without a car, a smart phone, or a high school education. So Amish-themed reality TV sets up lives that are radically different and “Amish” characters who then rebel against Amish ways of life, smashing our stereotypes of quiet, reclusive, rural pacifists.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Amish?

A: The fact that Amish society has enormous diversity and complexity and is not simple or simplistic. The Amish are a robust and ingenious American group that has creatively developed ways to negotiate with the outside world to both maintain their traditions and tap many benefits of modern life.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at The Amish and Technology and From Rumspringa to Marriage, chapter excerpts from The Amish that explore two of the most fascinating aspects of Amish culture.


Filed under Amish, Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, For Everyone