cover image On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren

On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren

Donald B. Kraybill, Carl F. Bowman. Johns Hopkins University Press, $65 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8018-6565-7

Kraybill and Bowman, professors of sociology at Messiah College and Bridgewater College, respectively, take a typically sociological approach to Old Order Anabaptists. The authors attempt to explain how these groups, which are opposed to modern culture in so many ways, have been able not only to survive, but even to thrive. The Old Orders stress community, obedience and self-denial over individualism; they eschew ""consumer consumption"" (a rather unforgivably tautological phrase); and they question the value of formal education beyond a certain point, usually the eighth grade. The authors deal cursorily with the history and demographics of the Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish and Brethren, devoting a chapter to each. These chapters include numerous graphs and charts and contain copious data, but they make for rather dry reading. The concluding chapters are the most interesting as the authors focus on the similarities, differences, structures and prospects of the traditions. Readers might be surprised to learn that the groups are actually quite diverse in terms of their acceptance and use of technology and in their relationships with the outside world. The authors are thorough in their analysis and offer cogent, if somewhat obvious, reasons for the continuing success of the Old Order traditions. Their approach is clearly sociological, so readers seeking a more historical perspective will want to look elsewhere. The book will be useful to libraries, undergraduates studying sociology of religion and general readers. (Apr.)