The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism

By Ralph W. Hood, Jr.; Peter C. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Fundamentalism among the Amish

In the Amish case, the message of the sectarian society is
exemplary. A way of living is more important than
communicating it in words. The ultimate message is the life.
An Amish person will have no doubt about his convictions,
his view of meaning and purpose of life, but he cannot
explain it except through the conduct of his life.

—HOSTETLER (1993, p. 8)

In this chapter, we apply the intratextual model of fundamentalism to the Amish.1 The Amish are an extraordinary group of people with a rich heritage dating back to the Protestant Reformation. Their society is sectarian, in that it stresses the necessity of absolute separation from all other religious and civic loyalties. This has resulted in a style of living that clearly flies in the face of contemporary American culture, with “quaint” buggies, styles of dress, and one-room schoolhouses, and with a tendency to eschew modern conveniences. Many secular Americans romanticize the apparent simplicity of Amish life from afar, with a touch of nostalgia. For others, Amish society is a puzzling community with silly customs and countless contradictions. Yet as one author (Kraybill, 1989) has put it, perhaps the most intriguing puzzle of all is the secret of Amish survival through the 20th century (and now into the 21st). What one discovers on taking a closer look is that beneath the surface of simplicity and unusual customs is a hard yet purposeful existence based firmly on scriptural convictions. The result? A uniquely coherent set of beliefs that, despite attack from the larger culture, provides a resilient social framework—one that has remained remarkably unchanged from the 16th and 17th centuries.

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