The Amish

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    I. Group Profile

    1. Name : The Amish

    2. Founder : Jacob Amman

    3. Date of Birth : February 19, 1656

    4. Birth Place : Switzerland

    5. Year Founded : 1693-1697

    6. Sacred Texts :

    7. The Bible is the sacred text of the Amish people. The Amish interpret the Bible literally and directly in many cases which explains their lifestyle. In addition to the Bible there are unwritten rules on which the Amish people base their morals and way of life. The Ordung are the unwritten rules of the church and are not specified in writing, but are known and closely followed.

    8. Cult or Sect:

    9. Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    10. Size of Group :

    11. Estimates of the total number of Amish in North America vary. Melton reports 30,000 in 1995 and 900 in Canada. Three quarters of all Amish are located in just three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The large majority of Amish live in rural areas. The total Amish population is estimated at 134,000, but only adults are counted as full church members.

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    II. History

      The Amish people are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth century Europe. Anabaptism is a religion that came about during the reformation era. During sixteenth century Europe, people were changing their ideas about religion. Prior to this time, Europe was traditionally united in "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" 1 . However this "One Church" did much more than regulate people's spiritual needs. It was highly connected with the state and politics, and during the Reformation, people began to take a stand against the Church. After 1517, the Roman Catholic Church began to lose much of its political and moral authority, and at this time, reformers such as Martin Luther stepped in and made changes to Church structure and doctrine 2 .

      Luther taught that salvation came to each individual through their own faith and not through the sacraments of the church 3 . His ideas spread quickly with the invention of the printing press, and church leaders from other cities began teaching his reforms as well. One such example is of Ulrich Zwingli who founded the Reformed Church in Zurich Switzerland 4 . While Zwingli's Protestant group was more liberal than Luther's it still maintained the ideas of united church and state and infant baptism. However some people were looking to take an even more radical stance and "reform the reformers" 5 . It was these people who came to be called the Anabaptists.

      The term Anabaptist first started out as a nickname that meant "rebaptizer", because this group rejected the idea of infant baptism 6 . They said that because an infant does not have the knowledge of good and evil, it can not have sin 7 . The Anabaptists were seen as a threat to Europe's religious and social institutions and were therefore persecuted. As a result of this persecution, Anbaptists emigrated to find refuge in places such as Moravia, Alsace, Palatinate, and the Netherlands 8 .

      The Amish religion is actually a branch off of the Swiss Mennonites. The group received its name from its founder, Jacob Amman. Amman was born in Switzerland and later moved to Alsace, where he became an elder and spokesman for the Anabaptists in that area 9 .

      In the Netherlands one very influential leader of the Anabaptists was Menno Simons. He became such an influential leader and advocate for Anabaptism that many Anabaptists came to be known as Mennonites 10 . The Amish division came about as a result of particular reforms Amman wanted to make that erupted into disagreement with other Mennonite leaders.

      Amman first proposed the idea that church congregations commune together twice a year 11 . (Previously the Swiss Mennonites observed communion only once a year because of literal translation of the Bible.) When this idea was rejected by other leaders, Amman then moved on to the topic of social avoidance, or Meidung. While the Swiss Anabaptists followed the Schleiteim Articles of Faith by practicing excommunication, Alsatians, in addition to excommunication, also practiced Meidung and the of washing feet. Amman wanted all Anabaptist congregations to observe both avoidance and footwashing. However, after several meetings with other Swiss leaders it was clear that they were not going to agree 12 .

      The Swiss resisted Amman's reforms and in rebuke, Amman excommunicated the Swiss Ministers 13 . While he later made an attempt to apologize and reunite with the Mennonites, it was too late, and the differences were irreconcilable. As a result, the Alsatian congregation formed a new religious division known as the Amish under the leadership of Jacob Amman 14 .

      As a result of persectution, the Amish began to immigrate to North America. More specifically, they went to Pennsylvania, because it had become a haven for other persecuted religions 15 . Amish immigration in the 18th century was highest between 1727 and 1770, and the ship that carried the most Amish passengers over, the Charming Nancy , arrived in Philadelphia in 1737 16 . Most Amish groups settled in Lancaster county, which is still one of the most famous Amish communities today.

      During the 19th century, the Amish community had to deal with some controversy and experienced some internal divisions 17 . Divisions occurred over different interpretations of the Ordnung , or the common order of life for the Amish. In many communities there were separations between conservative Amish and more progressive Amish. For the conservatives, the Ordnung "gave physical expression to biblical teachings and virtues" 18 . But for the progressive Amish, the teachings and virtues could be expressed in other ways as well. It was from this time that the terms "Old Order Amish" and Amish Mennonite" came to be used to distinguish between the conservative Amish and the Progressive Amish 19 . During the 20th century, the Amish also experienced contoversy between their beliefs and what the government tried to mandate to them, however this is discussed in the current controversies section of this site.

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Current Controversies | Commercialization | Links | Bibliography |

    III. Beliefs of the Group

      The roots of the Amish tradition come from the Swiss Anabaptist movement in 16th century Europe. In February of 1527, several Anabaptist leaders met in a secret conference, from which they issued a declaration of "brotherly union" 20 . This declaration captured the Swiss Anabaptists' view of a Christian brotherhood living together in a community. The declaration has since been given the name of The Schleitheim Articles 21 , and is still one of the basic guidelines in the lives of Swiss Bretheren and the Amish today 20 .

      Where the Amish differ from the Swiss Bretheren (and which actually is the source of the Amish split from Anabaptism) is in their acceptance and observance of the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 22 . This document, in addition to excommunication, also endorses the practices of social avoidance (Meidung) and footwashing 23 .(articles 11 and 17).

      The Anabaptist movement believes that only the pure should be involved in religion and that if a member were to fall into sinful actions, he or she should be excommunicated. Meidung, also called shunning, is the practice of the community to avoid associating with members of the community who have been excommunicated 24 . Jacob Amman's interpretation and practice of Meidung was even more strict than that of the Anabaptists. He told his followers to shun all members that leave the Amish church and those who marry an outsider. He also preached that one should not buy from, sell to, or even eat at the same table as the excommunicated individual 25 . Such strict traditions have been passed down generation to generation and have kept the Amish lifestyle stable 26 . The Amish get their instuction for shunning from the Bible in I Corrinthians 5:11, which says "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one" 27 . Once a person has been shunned, if they acknowledge their sins and wish to make ammends with the community, they are allowed back into the fellowship, usually after two or three weeks 28 .

      The practice of washing feet comes from the scripture of John 13. The Amish follow a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible, and just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, the Amish wash each others' feet at the observance of communion. They stoop when washing each others' feet as a symbol of humility 29 .

      Currently, many of the important differences in the Amish way of life are the customs and moral principles. Such beliefs have become known to the Amish followers as the Amish Charter. This is an unwritten set of rules and beliefs that all Amish people strive to uphold and use as a guide in their daily lives 30 .

      While the Amish subscribe to basic Christian beliefs, such as the belief in a divine Christ, heaven and hell, receiving inspiration from scripture, and the church as the body of Christ, the Amish tradition differs from many other modern religions, in that their faith is combined in their entire culture 31 . The Amish culture is based on ideals which are in direct contrast with the ideals of modern American culture. In today's society, emphasis is placed on the individual and their ability to achieve personal success and fulfillment. However, in the Amish culture all emphasis is on the community. The basic concepts of Amish culture can best be described by the German word Gelassenheit 32 . Gelassenheit is a concept which encompasses many aspects of Amish life. It can be broken down into five units which include: personality, symbols, structure, ritual, and values 33 .

      Gelassenheit teaches Amish to be reserved, modest, calm, and quiet. It is a way of thinking about one's relationship with God and to become completely submissive to God's authority. It also has a great emphasis on serving and respecting others in the community. It includes the ideas of a modest way of acting, talking, dressing, and walking. And it is also a way of stucturing social life so that communities remain small and simple 34 .

      Some of the most important beliefs held by the Amish are: separation from the outside world, vow of obedience, and closeness to nature. There are other regulations over societal customs such as dress, use of inventions and no formal education beyond elementary school. The fear of being shunned and excommunicated keeps the Amish from being tempted by the outside world. The moral beliefs of the Amish Church are based on the Bible and most of their views stem from literal translations of the teachings of the Bible. The Amish do not try to recruit members from the outside world because that would be seen as consorting with those that are shunned 35 .

      The Amish society is one that is separate and intent on keeping the outside world out of their lives. The Amish choose to keep their lives simple and examine change very carefully before accepting it. In general, if the idea or invention will not help to keep their lives as simple as possible it will most likely be rejected. The Amish religion and way of life is based on Christian morals, traditions, and customs, that have lasted over many generations 36 .

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    IV. Current Controversies

      The attitude of the Amish towards the government has changed very little from those of the early Anabaptist forefathers 37 . Their views on the state are strongly influenced by article XIII of The Dordrecht Confession of Faith 22 . They see the necessity of the government, and any form of rebellion against it is considered "un-Christian" 38 .

      However, while the Amish do see meaning in the functions of government, they also give limitations to the authority of the state. Several issues and controversies have come up between the Amish and the state during the 20th century. Some of the most controversial include; the consolidation of small elementary schools, the requirement of high school attendance, compulsory welfare systems, and conscription 39 .

      When attendance was required past the fourth grade, quite a few Amish parents refused to go along with this law. Slowly though, they began to accept the idea of children attending school through the eighth grade. However, serious conflicts came about with the onset of school consolidation 40 .

      Prior to consolidation, the one-room school house was beneficial to the Amish community in many ways 41 . With schools being public, they served as a sort of middle-ground for children between the Amish community and the outside world. Amish parents were very involved with the operations of the school, and even though there were aspects of the school that were not permitted in Amish homes, such as electricity and central heating, these things were alright with the Amish. The school was the Amish child's first experience with the outside world, and he or she was able to learn the differences between the Amish community and the other world. Amish parents welcomed the interaction of their children with "English" children because they thought this interaction would make the idea of being Amish more appealing to their children 41 .

      Amish views of public schools changed though with the onset of consolidation. In one- room, rural schools, parents had somewhat of a say in what was taught and they were close enough to keep an eye on their children. But with consolidation, Amish parents did not like their children going to large schools away from the farm community where they did not know the teachers or what their children were being taught 42 .

      Another issue Amish culture had with the public school system was over the attendance in high school. The Amish feel that the age when a young person should be in highschool is when cultural isolation is most important 43 . Public high school teaches ideas that are not ackowledged by Amish culture, and parents feel it is important that at this time in a young person's life, he/she should only be surrounded by Amish peers. Other objections against high school attendance stem from their religious beliefs on social boundaries. I Corinthians 3:19 is an often quoted passage which says, "The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God" 44 .

      After many confrontations in various states, the U.S Supreme Court finally settled the controvercy on May 15, 1972. In Wisconsin v. Yoder , the court ruled in favor of the Amish saying the states could not constitutionally force Amish to send their children to public high schools 45 .

      Another issue of the Amish culture is that of compulsory welfare. Contrary to popular belief, the Amish do pay their taxes. They pay all taxes required by every non-Amish citizen, except they can apply for the self employment exemption for Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance 46 . The reason for this is because the Amish are so focused on community and family, they make it a duty to provide care for their elderly. Here again they follow the Bible which says in I Timothy 5:8, "if any provide not...for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." They feel that to pay Social Security tax would be like admitting that the government, and not the Amish community, has a responsibility for the Amish elderly. Such and admission for the Amish would be like denying the faith 47 .

      Finally, a last major controversey is that of conscription, or military service. Amish culture has always been known to have serious objections to war, so starting in WWII, Amish were given permission to serve their military obligation in civilian public service jobs. This alternative, though, was not easy 48 .

      This time of public service was very trying for the Amish. They were required to live outside their communities, where they were exposed to many of the everyday conveniences of the modern world. As a result, it was often difficult to re-adjust to the Amish way of life after their time of service was complete 49 .

      In addition to controversy with the American government, the Amish also struggle with the basic idea of modernity 50 . No matter how hard they try to avoid it, technology is slowly creeping into the Amish way of life. The areas where they have much conflict in are: telephones, motor vehicles, use of tractors, new types of farm equipment, and "luxuries" in the home. While the Amish still don't permit electricity in the home, most do use mechanical or gasoline-powered machines.

      The Amish continue to struggle on where to draw the line so they can distance themselves from the outside world, but still allow modest amounts of social change within their own community 51 .

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    V. Commercialization of the Amish

      While Amish communities try to stay as isolated from the secular world as possible, the commercialization of their culture has come to be a major source of income for them. From furniture, to food, to quilts, Amish culture has become a major commercial institution, which has led to changes in their interactions with the outside world.

      One of the main factors that lead to the commercialization of the Amish culture is tourism 52 . When most people think of "Amish country", they think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster has become the center of Amish tourism not only because it is the oldest and second largest Amish community, but also because of its close location to many metropolitan cities 53 . Just off of I-83 54 , Lancaster county is close enough for tourists to take a day trip into Amish country to get away from the fast pace of the city.

      Tourism has effected the Amish in several ways. In some cases, it was resented, and many people moved away from the towns that were becoming heavily populated 55 . However, in most cases tourism seems to be beneficial to the Amish, bringing great economic advantages. It has also been suggested that tourism helps to stengthen Amish life because it decreases the cultural gap between the Amish and the outside world. In addition, the growing public interest in Amish culture has increased sympathy for them, which in turn discourages the government from infringing on their rights 56 .

      In the long run however, commercialization has had little effect on the Amish way of looking at the world. They still hold true to their basic beliefs, and their church communities are still growing. Despite the increased interaction with the outside world, the Amish have managed to maintain their simple lifestyles.

      Visiting Mennonite Communities

      The largest concentration of Old Order Amish is found in Southeastern Pennsylvania where they intermingle with Mennonites is close proximity. This is a good place to get a glimpse of Amish and Mennonite life. Mennonites are more open to visitors than are the Amish, but this ia a good place to learn about both groups and see them in their own world. Located in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a little more than an hour west of Philadelphia, Lancaster County has become highly commercialized, but the genuine cultures are still present for those who will leave the main highways and shopping centers.

      A good place to start is The People's Place in the heart of Intercourse, PA on Route 340. They offer an excellent orientation film, a wonderful little museum that compares Amish and Mennonites, and the best book shop in the area. A short distance away is the Mennonite Information Center (maps of the area are everywhere). In addition to a film and exhibits, the Mennonite Information Center offers Mennonite guides who will join you in your car, van or bus for a tour. They also offer guest lodging at Mennonite homes. With a little advanced planning, Lancaster County offers an excellent opportunity for high school or college field trips. For more information on Amish and Mennonite educational opportunities, see the Lancaster On Line Page and click on PA Dutch Sites.

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    VI. Links to Amish Web Sites

      National Committee For Amish Religious Freedom
      A site which aims to preserve the religious freedom of the Old Order Amish within the United States

      Amish Connections on the WWW
      This remarkable page has thoughtfully organized over 400 links to Mennonite materials on the Internet including approximately 50 on the Amish. Materials are broken down into a dozen categories.

      The Amish--History, Beliefs, and Practices
      This link provides a concise summary of many of the facts of thehistory and beliefs of the Amish tradition. For more details onthe beliefs and practices of the Amish, see this OCRT page

      Wisconsin vs. Yoder
      case in which the Supreme Court ruled thatthe state did not have a compelling interest in requiring theAmish to send their children to public schools.

      U.S Supreme Court Case: Is There Religious Freedom in America--for the Amish?
      This page gives details about the Wisconsin v. Yoder case and looks at the questions of religious freedom for the Amish.

      The Amish, The Mennonites, and "The Plain People"
      This link is mainly focused on the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish. It answers many of the commonly asked questions about the Amish. Study Web Religion: Amish
      A page of links to Amish materials.

      Amish Country: A Historic Mecca in a world of confusion
      This page gives an inside account of Amish life. Written by a native of the Amish country, it gives great recommendations on what to see when visiting.

      Lee Zook: The Amish
      This site aims to educate the general public about the Amish and to highlight the positive ingluence of diverse groups, such as the Amish, in America.

      The Schleitheim Articles
      This link goes to the seven Schleitheim Articles which are the foundations of the Anabaptists.

      The Dordrecht Confession of Faith
      This is a link to The Dordrecht Confession of Faith, on which the Amish place high reverence for its discussion of meidung and footwashing.

      Ask the Amish FAQ Page
      This site answers many of the more frequently asked questions regarding the Amish, their faith, and their lifestyle.

      The Religious Movements Brethren Page
      This link is to the Religious Movements profile page on The Brethren, and can help show some of the similar backrounds between the Amish and the Brethren.

      The Religious Movements Moravian Page
      This link is to the Religious Movements profile page on the Moravians, and can help show some of the similar backrounds between the Amish and the Moravians.

      The Religious Movements Mennnite Page
      This link is to the Religious Movements profile page on Mennonites, and can help show some of the similar backrounds between the Amish and the Mennonites.

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Current Controversies | Commercialization | Links | Bibliography |

    VII. Bibliography

      Bial, Raymond. 1993.
      Amish Home. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

      Hostetler, John Andrew. 1993.
      Amish Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Fourth ed. and Revised Edition.

      Hostetler, John Andrew. 1992.
      Amish Children: Education in the Family, School, and Community Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Second ed.

      Hostetler, John Andrew. 1980.
      Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Jottini, Laura. 1988.
      A Language and Cultural Island in Modern American Society, The Amish . Milano, Italy: Giuffre.

      Kraybill, Donald B. Ed. 1993.
      The Amish and the State. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Kraybill, Donald B. 1989.
      The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Kraybill, Donald B., and Carl F. Bowman. 2001
      On the Backroad to Heaven: Older Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

      McLary, Kathleen. 1993.
      Amish Style: Clothing, Home Furnishing, Toys, Dolls, and Quilts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

      Niemeyer, Lucian. 1993.
      Old Order Amish: Their Enduring Way of Life. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Nolt, Steven M. 1992.
      A History of the Amish. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

      Redekop, Calvin Wall. 1989.
      Mennonite Society. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Schreiber, William. 1962.
      Our Amish Neighbors Chicago: The University Press.

      Umble, Diane Zimmerman, 1996.
      Holding the Line: The Telephone in the Old Order Mennonite and Amish Life . Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Yoder, Don, 1998.
      "Sects and Religious Movements of German Origin," in Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, eds. Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Vol I: 615-633.

      Yoder, Paton. 1991.
      Tradition & Transition: Amish Mennonites and Old OrderAmish, 1800-1900. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

      Video Tapes:

      The Amish: Not to Be Modern. 1985.
      MPI Home Video.

      The Amish: A People of Preservation. 1996.
      Heritage Productions, Harleysville, PA 19439.


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      Also of Interest on the Religious Movements Homepage

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      Created by Amy Inge
      For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Behavior
      University of Virginia
      Spring Term, 2000
      Last modified: 04/18/01