The Amish and Their Neighbors
Thursday, June 2, 2022 • 1:30–3:00 pm
A. Seminar: An Introduction to Amish and Plain Anabaptist Groups
Edsel Burdge Jr.
This seminar will provide an overview of Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren Plain groups, including Old Order horse-and-buggy-driving groups and the wider variety of conservative car-driving churches within the Plain Anabaptist orbit. Participants will learn the basic culture and values that animate these groups, as well as their geographic concentrations and spread across the United States and Canada. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the diversity as well as identifying the commonalities among the groups, with an eye to questions and issues that commonly arise for health care providers, such as community and family decision-making, use/non-use of insurance, and broad understandings of health and scientific medicine.
Edsel Burdge Jr. is research associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. He gathers the statistical data for the Center’s annual Amish Population Profile. His research interests focus on American Mennonites within the Swiss Brethren tradition, and he coauthored Building on the Gospel Foundation: Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970 (2004). Burdge received his MA in history from Villanova University and belongs to a Plain, car-driving Mennonite church.
B. Panel: Every Child Matters: Preventing and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse in Plain Communities
Every nine minutes, a child in the United States experiences sexual abuse. Meanwhile, only 25 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will be sentenced to prison for their crimes. Sexual violence does not discriminate based on religion, culture, or background, and it is a pervasive problem in Plain communities. Three members of the Plain Communities Task Force of Lancaster County, PA will share recommendations for improving efforts to address sexual violence in Plain communities by defining sexual assault as a public health issue; discussing the unique cultural norms in Plain communities that may have an impact on preventing and responding to child sexual abuse; exploring how prevention work and capacity-building within Plain communities can result in a lower prevalence of sexual violence; and exploring implications of sexual violence’s prevalence in Plain communities by identifying risk and protective factors as well as the social determinants of health along various points in the social ecological model (individually, relationally, communally, societally).
Brittany Leffler is a sexual assault counselor and educator with YWCA of Lancaster, where she provides trauma-focused crisis counseling services to survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment and their significant others. She has served on Lancaster County's Plain Communities Task Force, helping develop responses for Amish and Mennonite sexual abuse prevention, education, and services.
Linda Crockett founded Safe Communities after spending more than 15 years in the field of sexual and domestic violence prevention and response. She is a survivor, writer, public speaker, organizational consultant, group facilitator and strategist focused on social-movement building with a broad spectrum of survivors and allies and community work with interdisciplinary coalitions. She currently co-leads the Plain Communities Task Force of Lancaster County and the Trauma-Informed Care for Survivors of Sexual Violence Work Group as part of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Advocacy and Reform initiative.
Mary Boll has worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse for over 30 years. She has been a part of the Plain Community Task Force since its beginning. When training to facilitate a Batterers Intervention program became available in the area, she took the Duluth Model training and was a co-facilitator with the former Family Service for a number of years. Mary and her husband, Nevin, teach in Plain community homes using the workbook she wrote, “Keeping Families Safe,” to help families prepare their children to face daily life and stay safe.
C. Papers: Teaching and Research
Buy That Stamp! Letter Writing and Amish Research
Karen M. Johnson-Weiner
Letter writing may be a dying art in a society in which text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts increasingly substitute for more substantial, time-consuming, and costly communication. For the Amish, however, letter writing remains a daily activity. Circle letters create diverse communities within communities, uniting groups of cousins, sisters, single women, childless women, or parents with twins into communities that cross state, settlement, and affiliation borders. In this talk, I will draw on my own research experience to suggest that the Amish willingness to use paper, pen, and stamps can also be productive for non-Amish researchers. In a letter, one can ask more questions, and the replies received may be more detailed than face-to-face conversation allows. In letters, an Amish writer may pass on information not likely to be shared in front of children. Letters I’ve received have both reinforced insights gained from fieldwork and corrected misunderstandings. And because letters lead writers at both ends of the correspondence to share, they reaffirm friendships between those who are distant from each other.
Karen M. Johnson-Weiner is Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology Emerita at SUNY Potsdam in Potsdam, NY, and has been studying patterns of language use and cultural maintenance in Amish and Mennonite communities for over 30 years. She received a PhD in linguistics from McGill University. Her books include Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and The Lives of Amish Women (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020).
Fostering an Inclusive Learning Community in University Classes about the Amish during Times of Societal Stress
Caroline C. Brock
Joseph F. Donnermeyer
The challenges of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 have changed the way many instructors use teaching methods and led them to seek innovative pedagogical methods that help students feel more included during a time when many felt disconnected. How to adapt and change to help students navigate in this new environment became a central driving question for many faculty, but these issues were perhaps even more poignant for instructors with central diversity and inclusion themes such as those focusing on religious/cultural minorities like the Amish. This presentation by two faculty at major state universities who teach courses about Amish society will reflect on ways of adapting to foster an inclusive learning community during COVID include Zoom office hours, periodic debriefing sessions on Zoom about what students learned from the video lectures about Amish history and society, and Zoom breakout sessions that were coined “buddy bunches” with students giving nicknames for their groups similar to the Amish during Rumspringa. The recent pandemic is just one example of other times of societal stress. Other examples include the racial discord and protest movements behind Black Lives Matter, and 9/11. We hope to foster discussion and reflection with other instructors on how societal stress may have influenced teaching, so we can include a diversity of experiences and learn from one other.
Caroline C. Brock is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She received a PhD in environment and resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has taught a large, writing intensive class on Amish communities every semester since 2012. Collaborating with researchers at Indiana University and The Ohio State University on grant writing and publications related to Amish and climate change, she has published six jointly-authored publications on Amish farmers in the past two years.
Joseph F. Donnermeyer is a professor emeritus in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University. Although a criminologist for most of his academic career, he has a deep and continuing interest in the social, cultural, and economic changes affecting the Amish. Specifically, his Amish research examines the demographic dimensions of the Amish, including population growth, settlement expansion, and occupational change. Through much of his career, he annually taught “Amish Society,” a rural sociology course. Donnermeyer has published two books and numerous peer-reviewed book chapters and journal articles about the Amish. He cofounded and serves as coeditor of the Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities, which is part of the digital library at The Ohio State University.
The Interview: Building Trust in Qualitative Research
Donald B. Kraybill
Based on his extensive fieldwork experience, Kraybill will offer an exploration of practical procedures and techniques to reduce social distance in research conducted by outside investigators among America’s Plain People. Topics will include, among other issues, preparation, dress, language, recording, notetaking, and IRB procedures.
Donald B. Kraybill is professor of sociology emeritus and senior fellow at the Young Center of Elizabethtown College. He has conducted dozens of interviews for a variety of research projects and has written and coauthored numerous books and scholarly articles. His most recent book is What the Amish Teach Us.
D. Seminar: The Archaeology of Difference: Brethren Distinctives in a Plain World
The Old German Baptist Brethren form a small but significant expression within the constellation of Plain or Old Order churches in North America. Incontestably Plain in their convictions and lifestyle, they nonetheless express their “plainness” in ways that are similar to and simultaneously quite distinctive from both the Amish and many other Old Order groups. This interactive seminar aims to expand participants’ awareness of the breadth and divergence of Plain groups by exploring the distinctive practices and ways of being of the Old German Baptist Brethren. These distinctives include: a joint Pietist and Anabaptist heritage; an unusually rich, participative, and complex ritual life expressed in, and reinforced through, their distinctive practices of baptism, the salutation, love feast, and anointing; an ostensibly “flat” and participative church organizational structure; a distinctive combination of critical self-reflection, emphasis on internal spirituality expressed in external behaviors, and the practice of submission; a particular emphasis on hospitality extended to members and to outsiders; an unusually intense commitment to discussion and discursive engagement in the informal creation of knowledge; and a toleration of often significant theological diversity within the bounds of a uniform orthopraxis.
Jeff Bach is director emeritus of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, having led the center from 2007 to 2020. He earned his PhD in religion from Duke University, concentrating on the history of Anabaptist and Pietist groups, and is the author of Voices of the Turtledoves: The Sacred World of Ephrata (Penn State Press, 2003).
Sam Funkhouser is the executive director of the Brethren & Mennonite Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, VA. He is a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference. His thesis, completed at Princeton Theological Seminary, was published as In the Line of Duty: A History and Theological Analysis of Early English-Language Brethren Hymn Books and Hymnals, 1791-1884 (Brethren Encyclopedia, 2021).
Tony Walsh was, until his recent retirement, a member of the academic staff at Maynooth University, County Kildare, Ireland. He continues as director of the Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism at the university and was a Kreider Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Interested in understanding minority experiences through the lens of narrative research, he has engaged in research in Palestine, the UK, Ireland, and the US. He has a particular interest in the experience and culture of the Old German Baptist Brethren.