Introduction: An Insider’s Perspective on the Amish

With a blog by the name of “About Amish,” I’m sure you will want some idea of who I am and what gives me the authority to write on the subject, or at the very least what my perspective is. I find there is a scarcity of accurate information out there about the Amish. There are few women scholars or “experts” of Amish culture, and literally no scholars who were born and raised in the culture since John Hostetler’s death. Of course the merits of being an “outsider” can be argued, but there are certain nuances one will never understand unless one has lived the culture. This leaves a researcher in the position of having to use the Amish people as their source for “inside” information, which is a tough position of balancing between objectivity and not alienating the sources. Therefore, when issues arise that the Amish do not want publicized, it becomes a dilemma whether or how to address these issues.

My perspective is neither the rose-colored rendition of the Amish that so many people espouse to, nor is it the one that I had 20 years ago when I was still bitter about my Amish past. Rather my perspective is that of someone who sees both the merits of the Amish lifestyle and also the sacrifices that go with it. For some of us, these sacrifices outweighed the benefits of living in the only community we knew. When one leaves, one deliberately walks away from the security and conformity of the strictly ordered community. Once abandoned, the future is self-determined, exhilarating, and terrifyingly open.

It is nearly 30 years since I left the Amish for the second and final time. Since then there has been a long inner struggle of coming to terms with my Amish past. My husband and I have raised two sons, I graduated from Smith College in May 2007, and I subsequently became a Fulbright finalist. My education has included research on the Amish with Dr. Donald Kraybill (co-author of the book, Amish Grace) at the Young Center at Elizabethtown College, and a semester abroad in Germany. My semester abroad included studying Children’s Literature (including writing a children’s story in German), German Studies, and Philosophy at the University of Hamburg. I also visited key historic sites, such as the cottage and burial site of Menno Simons, one of the leaders of the Anabaptists, and I visited small towns in Switzerland where it is believed that my ancestors had lived.

I plan to someday study anthropology or religion on the graduate level, which hopefully will include studying abroad in Europe where the primary sources on Anabaptists, Amish, and Mennonites may reveal the answers to some of the questions I have about Amish roots. I am interested in exploring why the there are no Amish left in Europe and yet they are thriving in the United States and Canada. I would also like to research which traditions changed or fell by the wayside and which ones carried over when our ancestors migrated from German-speaking countries to the United States.

I am currently the Academic Department Coordinator for the German Department and the Program in European Studies at Amherst College. In a joint venture with my husband, we are remodeling a house we bought a year ago. I belong to a Scrabble Club and a Book Club, I occasionally bake and sew, I am in the process of developing a website, and I now I have a new hobby — blogging.

With the scarcity of accurate information about the Amish I mentioned earlier, there are many widespread myths about Amish culture that I will be discussing in future posts. In my next post I will be addressing the issue of whether Amish youth are given a choice about whether they stay or leave the community. Please send me your questions about aspects of the culture you are curious about.

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4 thoughts on “Introduction: An Insider’s Perspective on the Amish”

  1. This morning on the news I heard that there are several programs which are focusing on aspects of the Amish culture, such as the period of time that the youth are given to go out into the world and then make a decision as to whether they want to return home or not. I grew up in Pa. I only know of the Amish community due to my experience there, not an insider by any means. When I heard about the several TV programs I couldnt help but think “exploitation” and that this exploitation would lead to the demise of the Amish as we know them in the USA. What would be your perspective on this? Also, I admire you for doing what you needed to do for yourself, I am shocked to see no comments on your blog for such fascinating subject, but that being said I am just getting here myself!

  2. So this is where it all began. You have definitely fulfilled your mission on giving accurate information about the Amish. The pink cloud Amish are a fragment of the past. And I believe this is exactly what God wanted. “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I’m sure this includes groups, as well.

  3. Pingback: About Amish | Ten Year Anniversary, Part I

  4. I watched the Amish ‘American Experience’ programme last night. It was broadcast on U.K. tv on Christmas Day on a ‘PBS America’ channel. I always thought the Amish lived basic lives and were peaceful, gentle people. I’ve been to Pennsylvania but not really to any tourist area to see the Amish people. I was shocked in the documentary to learn they shun ex-Amish people in the way Mormons do. I have some Mormon friends so know a little about that. I really have a problem with this idea of shunning as it seems like a way of forcing people to stay in a faith group and not allow them to be Hirst about their belief or unbelief. Losing your whole community is too much for most people to endure so they ‘go with the flow’ unless a critical mass of people also think like they do. I’ve come here to read your blog from the beginning right up to present day but already admire you in having left and had a (hopefully) happy and fulfilled life outside of the Amish community.

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