Thursday, June 9
Session Abstracts and Descriptions


Doesn't it Taste Better Down on the Farm?”: Home-Based Amish Food Tourism

Beth Graybill

Through the intersection of ethnography and food studies, my paper explores Lancaster County Amish women who serve home-cooked meals to groups in their home for pay and the customers who patronize them.

As culinary entrepreneurs and purveyors of ethnic identity, Amish women provide a controlled experience of constructed authenticity through food tourism in their homes. I draw on my interviews with them as well as on interactions with and among student and retiree groups who patronize them.  I explore the motivations that drive visitors to seek out such meals, which they associate with an authentic culinary and cultural heritage, and to what extent these experiences are and are not vehicles for cultural understanding. My paper briefly touches on food politics by comparing the marketing of Amish cuisine by tourist, smorgasbord restaurants in Lancaster County who discourage Amish in-home eating as illegal (unregulated) and thus unsafe.

Beth Graybill situates her research alongside such theoretical material as William Woys’ Weaver’s 2013 book, As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine; Marlene Epp’s work on Mennonite cookbooks and foodways in Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History (2012); and Lucy Long’s 2004 book, Culinary Tourism.

Dinosaurs in Eden: Plain People and Fundamentalism

Susan and William Trollinger

In this paper we discuss the degree to which young earth creationism has made its way into the Amish communities of Ohio and Indiana. While our conclusions are quite preliminary, our evidence (including interviews) strongly suggest that Answers in Genesis (AiG)—the world’s largest creationist organization—has made great inroads among the Amish. Not only do many Amish families receive AiG materials, but it is clear that a sizable number of Amish in Indiana and Ohio have made multiple visits to AiG’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. More than this, Amish laborers—organized by two Amish brothers from Indiana—make up much of the workforce building the massive timber replica of Noah’s Ark, an AiG edifice located near the museum and scheduled to open July 7, 2016.

In the latter part of the paper, we note the ways in which Amish biblical literalism and Amish theology differ from fundamentalist young earth creationism and fundamentalist theology. We conclude with a few musings as to what all this might mean in the long run for the Amish of Indiana, Ohio, and perhaps beyond.

Susan L. Trollinger is associate professor of English at the University of Dayton. William Vance Trollinger, Jr. is professor of history at the University of Dayton. They are co-authors of Righting America at the Creation Museum (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

Fifty Years of Big Valley, Pennsylvania, Quilts and Haps

Elaine Mercer

Begun in 1791, the Mifflin County settlement was already well established by the time Amish women adopted quiltmaking, after sewing machines and mass-produced fabrics became available, in the mid1800s. Quiltmaking continues to be an important aspect of Old Order Amish culture in Big Valley.

This slide presentation includes pictures of the past fifty years of Big Valley quiltmaking, photographed in the homes and on the clotheslines of Byler, Peachey, and Nebraska Amish groups, with comments from the quiltmakers about the ways their quilts and haps have changed and stayed the same during that time.

Elaine Mercer has lived as a neighbor in two Amish settlements: Conewango, New York (1971-1977) and Belleville, Pennsylvania (1992 to the present). Through reading John A. Hostetler’s Amish Society and friendships with neighbors, she quickly developed an interest in Amish history and culture, including their extraordinary bedcoverings.


The Growth of Amish and Plain Anabaptists in Missouri

Joseph F. Donnermeyer

The populations of Amish and most other plain Anabaptist groups are growing rapidly, as is the geographical range of their expansion. In Missouri new settlements have developed out of migrations from Midwestern states in the U.S. and from Ontario in the past several decades. This paper reviews the historical development of settlements in Missouri. It includes pertinent demographic information about the Amish and other plain Anabaptist groups, such as estimates of population size and the origins of the founding families there. This research utilizes various sources, including directories of families and church groups in the settlements in Missouri, and news publications such as The Budget, The Diary, Die Botschaft, Plain Connection, and others.

Joseph F. Donnermeyer is a professor emeritus in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University. He has a deep interest in the social, cultural and economic changes affecting the Amish. His Amish research focuses on the demographic dimensions of the Amish such as population growth, settlement expansion, and occupational change. Recently, he was featured as an OSU TEDx speaker with a presentation titled “A Leadership Lesson from the Amish.”

Amish Demographics 2016

Edsel Burdge, Jr.

Currently, Amish live in thirty-one states in the United States and in three Canadian provinces, as well as in two South American countries. This paper will discuss the various strategies that are used to collect and analyze the data that form the basis of the Annual Amish Population Growth Report that the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies publishes on its website. It will also address the questions of migration patterns, formation of new settlements, comparative family size among the various Amish affiliations, as well as doubling time.

Edsel Burdge, Jr. is research associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College. He has a BA in history from Eastern Mennonite University and an MA in history from Villanova University. He is responsible for compiling the statistical data for the Young Center’s annual Amish population growth report. His fields of expertise are Amish demographics and other plain Anabaptist groups. 

Amish in Ireland? A New Protestant Group in Ireland

Tony Walsh

This presentation examines the context of recent dramatic change in Protestantism in Ireland, illustrated by a settlement of Beachy Amish in rural County Waterford. Religious movements always exist in a complex relationship with their wider sociocultural context. This is particularly evident in the historically complex and emotionally laden relationship with religion and the Catholic-Protestant conflicts. As Protestant numbers fell from 11 percent prior to Independence to just over 3 percent of the population in the 1990s, extinction appeared inevitable. In the new era of openness, liberalisation, and cultural diversity in Ireland, largely ushered in by the recent economic boom years many traditional narratives of history and identity are being discarded. This context is the setting for the examination of a growing Beachy Amish community in County Waterford as an example of “new Protestant groupings emerging in Ireland that continue to experience quite remarkable levels of growth.

Using a narrative research methodology and taking the conceptual lenses of power, boundary and context this paper explores the  success of the Amish enterprise, contrasting this with past and current experiences of the indigenous religious minority. The paper closes by drawing a number of conclusions that may be of relevance to both traditional Irish Protestantism and to more recent arrivals such as the Amish.

Tony Walsh is head of the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University, County Kildare, Ireland. He is also the director of the Centre for Studies in Irish Protestantism and also of the Centre for Narrative Research. He is a member of the advisory board of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at the university. He has contributed to a number of books on radical adult education, peacekeeping and multicultural congregation.


 Are the Amish Models of Environmental Stewardship? Exploring the Amish Relationship with Nature

David McConnell and Lyn Loveless

This seminar will explore how the Amish situate themselves in the natural world, as observers of nature, as users of natural resources, and as a rural people whose lives are embedded in nature. On the one hand, their deep familiarity with place, the depth of their local knowledge, and their light ecological footprint embody values and practices lauded by many environmentalists. On the other hand, their biblical worldview, bookended by Genesis and Revelations, gives nature only contingent value, linked to human interests, and provides Nature with no permanent standing. And their cultural and spiritual values focus their attention inward, even though Amish communities are embedded in local, regional, and global ecological processes. In addition, the recent growth of small businesses, an increasing affluence in many communities, and more leisure time have reconfigured the Amish relationship with the land and the balance between economic self-interest and attention to the health of the landscape. Drawing on examples from agriculture, the wood products industry, nature-oriented leisure activities, animal breeding and husbandry, natural resource extraction, and nature travel and writing, this seminar will explore the complicated and dynamic relationship that the Amish have with nature and the scope of their commitment to environmental stewardship.

David L. McConnell is professor of anthropology at the College of Wooster and is coauthor of An Amish Paradox. Lyn D. Loveless is professor of biology emeritus at the College of Wooster, and studies the natural history of plants in tropical and temperate habitats.


From Fence to Switch: Amish Communication in a High Tech World

Lindsay Ems

The decision-making process in place in Amish communities for adopting or rejecting a new technology has been in development since the late 1800s and extensively studied (Cong 1992; Cooper 2006; Hurst and McConnell 2010; Kraybill 1998; Kraybill 2001; Kraybill et al. 2010; Kraybill et al. 2013; Murphy 2009; Rheingold 1999; Scott and Pellman 1990; Umble 1996; Umble 2003; Wetmore 2007; Wueschner 2002). However, previous descriptions of the decision-making process focuses primarily on the formal mechanisms for technology adoption or rejection and refer to the erecting of “cultural fences” to separate the Amish from the outside world.

Using ethnographic data collected in the Elkhart/LaGrange/Noble County and Daviess County settlements in Indiana from 2011-2014, this paper investigates more subtle, informal processes of decision-making, which also shape Amish communication processes in today’s high-tech information society and economy. In addition to formal rule-making procedures, socialization and the instilling of values in the home (and church) also shape technology usage patterns for members of Amish communities.

This paper is a product of the author’s recently completed dissertation, which consisted of ethnographic interviews with Old Order Amish church and business leaders. This dissertation yields new data about the factors Amish leaders consider in deciding whether to adopt new digital communication technologies in today’s changing economy and society.

Lindsay Ems is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Human Communication and Organizational Leadership at Butler University. She holds a PhD from the Media School at Indiana University. Her dissertation is an ethnographic investigation of digital communication technology use among Old Order Amish in Indiana.

Amish Women, Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Women and the Internet

Rivka Neria Ben-Shahar

My research explores how women from the Old Order Amish and Lithuanian and Hassidic Jewish ultra-Orthodox communities cope with the Internet and its apparent incompatibility with their communities' values and practices. Participants in the study (82, approximately half from each community answered questionnaires comprised of closed and open-ended questions.

Although their discourses included similar framings of danger and threat from the Internet, the two groups manifested different patterns of Internet use (or nonuse). A quarter of the Old Order Amish and half of the ultra-Orthodox women were found to use the Internet. Amish women reported using it to search for information or to shop; ultra-Orthodox women reported using it mostly for their jobs, but also to search for information, send emails, receive news updates, shop, and maintain contact with family. The women's agency is reflected in how they negotiate the tension inherent in their contradictory roles as both gatekeepers and agents-of-change, which are analyzed in the research as valuable currencies in the cultural and religious markets these women negotiate.

Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar is a lecturer at Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel. She was a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow in 2011-2012 at Brandeis University. Her latest article focuses on Old Order Amish and ultra-Orthodox women’s responses to the Internet, will be published in the journal New Media and Society.

Amish Internet Ordnung: Old Order Diversity and New Order Uniformity

Gerald Mast

This paper compares the processes of decision-making and rule-enforcement among Old Order and New Order Amish communities in the Holmes County, Ohio, settlement, as these processes are applied to church policies regarding computer, mobile phone, and Internet use. Relying on ethnographic fieldwork, including interviews with ministers and business people in both Old Order and New Order groups, the paper describes the acceptance and rejection of “conference-like polity norms as social and ecclesial leverage against demands for computer network accessibility by Amish church members involved in business, education, and publishing. New Order leaders have looked to written and published Ordnung that are shared among all New Order congregations as a strategy to strengthen and enforce district restrictions on Internet use. Old Order leaders have debated whether or not to follow the New Order approach, with a district-centered polity combined with an exclusively oral Ordnung carrying the day against the New Order approach thus far. These differences in polity enforcement have led to greater diversity of practice among Old Order districts when compared with New Order districts, even though the New Order have been unable to enforce complete uniformity. Drawing on the work of Kevin Kelly, the paper includes an examination of the types of boundary distinctions utilized by Amish to resist the ubiquity of Internet-related communication technology and dependency on it. Finally, decisions about technology use by the Amish are described as choices about the “infrastructure of being, as John Durham Peters describes media environments. In technology decisions, as with all Ordnung, the Amish are fashioning forms of life that adapt their conditions for existence to increasingly rapid contextual changes. By framing Amish choices in terms of media ecology, this analysis explains how Amish resistance to technology is not simply a matter of boundary maintenance but of active retooling—adapting technology to suit Amish needs amidst a changing media habitat.

Gerald J. Mast is professor of communication at Bluffton University and the author or editor of numerous books in Anabaptist studies, including Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion (Cascadia, 2006) and Go to Church: Change the World: Christian Community as Calling (Herald, 2012). He is presently researching how conservative and old order Anabaptist communities work around the Internet.


Access to primary health care presents many challenges to horse-and-buggy communities in southwestern Ontario, Canada. Daunting distances, inflated costs for those declining socialized health care, and oversubscribed health care providers, as well as cultural and religious dissonance mean that many Old Order families are not receiving basic preventative, acute, and/or chronic care follow-up. This informal panel discussion will present, from seed to first fruit, the genesis of the first fully community-owned and -operated primary health care clinic in Ontario, from both the perspective of the community and the Public Health Unit that supported and facilitates its establishment.

Panelists include Karen Stauffer and Christine Kennedy from the Grey Bruce Health Unit in Ontario. Christine Kennedy is both a public health physician and a family physician, practicing in Grey and Bruce Counties in southwestern Ontario, Canada. She has a passion for promoting equitable access to health and well-being interventions, especially for priority populations living in Grey and Bruce. Karen Stauffer holds a BSN from the University of Western Ontario. Over the past decade she has worked with members of several Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities in southwestern Ontario. She has experience in cross-cultural nursing in Haiti, Dominican Republic, and India.


Genetic Care for Amish and Mennonites in Wisconsin

Jessica Scott Schwoerer and Ashley Kuhl

Due to religious and cultural separation, a restricted founder gene pool and consanguinity, there is a high prevalence of autosomal recessive conditions in the Plain community. With new technology in genetics, the identification of over 150 genetic diseases in this population has occurred. Over the last two years, the University of Wisconsin Genetics Clinic has partnered with the La Farge Medical Clinic, well established in the Plain community, to better identify and service patients with genetic disease. Genetic diagnosis can aid in treatment and/or prognosis to help better care for the patient. 

Jessica Scott Schwoerer completed her medical education and genetics and biochemical genetics training at the University of Wisconsin and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics there. She works with the Plain communities in the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders including newborn screen disorders.

Ashley Kuhl  received her master’s in medical genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently a certified genetic counselor working the University of Wisconsin Metabolic and Medical Genetics Clinics and has the privilege of working with and providing care to Plain communities in Wisconsin.

Amish Responses to Genetic Disorders in Ohio

Sarah Miller-Fellows

This paper explores how the Amish community has been shaped by genetic disorders and how medical clinics serving Amish communities have been shaped by the Amish context. Amish settlements in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other communities have raised funds to create advanced centers for the treatment and study of the genetic disorders that affect Amish communities. These clinics and the research produced by them have transformed the prognosis of some of the common genetic disorders in the community from severe disability and early death to manageable illness. Many families benefit from the specialized knowledge and expertise provided by these centers. In these clinics, patients, providers, and the community at large engage with questions regarding the acceptability of technology and how to best provide care within the context of Amish values. An ongoing study with Amish women with and without genetic disorders in their immediate families explored how Amish women experience living in a community with genetic disorders and how their experiences with genetic disorders influence decisions about care during pregnancy. Interviews with local health-care providers, board members of these specialized clinics and community members yielded a perspective on larger community responses to genetic disorders, including clinics, schools and community financial support. The findings from this research provide important knowledge about how Amish communities and the medical clinics that serve them can create successful, culturally competent health care to best serve a diverse population and how communities organize to ensure their families are receiving the care they need.

Sarah Miller-Fellows is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and a research assistant at the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She holds an MPH. and an MA in medical anthropology from Case Western Reserve University. Her research interests include reproduction, early childcare, genetic disorders, infectious disease, and medical technology use. She received a 2015 National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant for her dissertation research on how Amish women experience pregnancy and caring for young children in the context of genetic disorders

Bipolar Disorder and Genetic Factors: Studies in Amish, Mennonite and Other Communities

Layla Kassem

A research project begun twenty-five years ago asks whether bipolar disorder is an inherited disease, and if so, what genes contribute to the likelihood that individuals will develop the disorder. A team of researchers conducted studies in several communities—including Amish and Mennonite ones—in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, and concluded that a familial factor is present in bipolar disorder. This presentation explains how the researchers continue to determine the ways in which the disorder is familial and the biological and environment factors that contribute to developing it. Kassem will highlight research results as they pertain to Amish and Mennonite populations.

Layla Kassem completed a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1993, a doctorate in human development in 2012, and postdoctoral training in Boston and Chicago. Her current work in psychiatric genetics is focused on working with Plain communities in North America and Latin America. Among her current projects is an investigation of the genetics of mood and anxiety disorders, and cultural issues in diagnosis and treatment, with a team at the Human Genetics Branch at NIMH/NIH.


 Mental Health Treatment and the Old Order Amish: Through the Looking Glass

Jim Cates

The successful therapist establishes rapport with the client. Individual or family, treatment occurs in the context of this clearly bounded and established relationship, and often in the confines of an office designed for the purpose. Collective Amish culture challenges this narrow view of effective intervention. Instead, the therapist/counselor embarks on a journey of discovery with few evidence-based landmarks, murky legalities, and novel ethical challenges. This seminar offers a dialogue to grapple with these experiences.

Jim Cates is a psychologist in private practice in northeast Indiana. He is the author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals as well as several articles about the Old Order. He is a frequent guest blogger for Amish America. His work in Amish settlements includes interventions with substance abuse, victims of sexual abuse and offenders, psychological assessments, and consultation on domestic violence.


Amish Society: Continuity and Dynamism in a Hyper-Modern World

Steve Nolt

During the past half century Amish society has attracted attention for its remarkable persistence in the midst of modern North America. Yet the fact that the Amish survive and thrive has just as surely been a result of their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Steve Nolt will consider key developments in Amish society and its relationship with wider social forces since the mid-twentieth century. In charting these patterns he will suggest what they may say about the possibilities and limits of American pluralism today, as well as for the future of a dynamic and increasingly diverse Amish world in the twenty-first century.

Steve Nolt will come from Goshen College to begin his position as the new senior scholar at the Young Center in July 2016. His most recent book is The Amish: A Concise Introduction (2016), published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Other recent publications include A History of the Amish, 3rd ed. (2015) and The Amish (2013), coauthored with Donald Kraybill and Karen Johnson-Weiner.