Donald Kraybill, a leading scholar of Anabaptist society and culture, mentioned in an interview last week that he is now working on three additional books about the Amish. A faculty member at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, Kraybill is the author of The Riddle of Amish Culture and numerous other books and articles.
He agreed to be interviewed by Erik Wesner, who is himself a scholar of Amish studies, for his blog “Amish America.” Kraybill said that he is on sabbatical for the coming academic year from his teaching and administrative duties at the college so he can work on the three books. One will be titled Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites. It will have hundreds of short essays on topics relating to those four groups. He expects to finish most of the work this summer, so it can be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in the spring of 2010.
The second project he outlined for the blog is The Amish in America, a book that he is working on with co-authors Steven Nolt and Karen Johnson Weiner. He refers to it as “a sweeping overview of the Amish of North America in 27 states and the province of Ontario.” It will be the first major overview of Amish society in a long time. “In many ways,” he explained, “The Amish in America will be a culmination of my research on the Amish over the past 20 years, conducted on many topics in numerous settlements.”
He also described briefly a third book he has been working on for eight years called From the Buggy to the Byte: How the Amish Tame Technology. He said the work on that book is about two-thirds finished.
For anyone who has read his books, his personal responses to some of Wesner’s questions were especially interesting. He said that he was raised on a Mennonite family farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and he completed his PhD under John Hostetler at Temple University in Philadelphia. Kraybill focused his early work on the Mennonites but shifted his emphasis to the Amish with his book Riddle of Amish Culture, first published in 1989. He has found that his Mennonite farm background has helped him relate to the Amish people that he works with.
In the course of the interview, Wesner asked him some effective questions about the Amish. Discussing the relationships between the large Amish settlements in Lancaster County, Holmes County, Ohio, and northeastern Indiana, Kraybill explained that with the ease of van travel, the Amish in those three major locations can now visit one another and they are doing so, but mostly for purposes of occupational sharing, such as attending a harness-makers convention. Kraybill does not expect that this level of face-to-face communication will lead to closer ties, such as marriages, among the major settlements.
Asked about the likelihood of young Amish people getting educations beyond the 8th grade level due to their increasing shift into business enterprises, Kraybill explained that they would more likely continue taking vocational short courses instead of advanced schooling. He feels that apprenticeship training is probably more important for young Amish people than book learning anyway.
He sees potential threats to Amish culture growing out of the inequalities that can develop in their society when some business owners make lots of money. Inequalities in wealth could lead to conflicts. Another concern is that an earlier standard forbade Amish people from owning technological devices that required electricity from the grid, but they allowed seemingly less harmful devices powered only by batteries. Because of the ubiquity of battery powered technological devices in Amish businesses and homes now, church districts are hesitant to close the door on them, but some of these devices increasingly appear to pose problems for their social and cultural ways.
Wesner asked Kraybill about his most recent book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, which he co-authored last year with Steven Nolt and David Weaver-Zercher. The book is about the forgiveness that the Amish of Lancaster County displayed toward the man who murdered their children in the Nickel Mines school tragedy in October 2006.
Kraybill discussed the importance of forgiveness for the Amish (see a review of the book, which will be posted in this website next Thursday). He indicated that it has received numerous positive reviews, and it went through five printings in the six months following publication last October. He seemed especially pleased that the Amish in the Nickel Mines area themselves approved of his work. “One of the [Amish] fathers who lost a daughter called and ordered 10 copies for his friends,” Kraybill commented.