Name : The Amish
Founder : Jacob Amman
Date of Birth : February 19, 1656
Birth Place : Switzerland
Year Founded : 1693-1697
Sacred Texts :
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.
Cult or Sect:
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.
Size of Group :
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.
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"
Luther taught that salvation came to each individual through their own faith and not
through the sacraments of the church
The term Anabaptist first started out as a nickname that meant "rebaptizer", because
this group rejected the idea of infant baptism
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
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
Amman first proposed the idea that church congregations commune together twice a year
The Swiss resisted Amman's reforms and in rebuke, Amman excommunicated the Swiss
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
During the 19th century, the Amish community had to deal with some controversy and
experienced some internal divisions
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The attitude of the Amish towards the government has changed very little from those of
the early Anabaptist forefathers
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
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
Prior to consolidation, the one-room school house was beneficial to the Amish community
in many ways
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
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
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
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
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
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
In addition to controversy with the American government, the Amish also struggle with
the basic idea of modernity
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
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 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
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.
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.
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. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/menno.html#amish
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.
http://www.800padutch.com/amish.html 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
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.
This link goes to the seven Schleitheim Articles which are the foundations of the Anabaptists. http://members.iquest.net/~jswartz/schleitheim/seven.html
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. http://www.bibleviews.com/Dordrecht.html
Ask the Amish FAQ Page
This site answers many of the more frequently asked questions regarding the Amish, their faith, and their lifestyle. http://www.800padutch.com/atafaq.htm
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. http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/brethren.html
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. http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Moravian.html
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.
| Amish (Archived) | Brethren | Mennonite | Moravians |
For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Behavior
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 2000
Last modified: 04/18/01