To managed to create their own segregated society which

To quote Tom Inglis “The
struggle between being different is at the heart of social life” (Inglis, 2008)
.Although America has moved on become a more modern and industrialised state,
the Amish community within America have resisted this entirely and have managed
to create their own segregated society which appears to be a community where
time has stood still, and to this day, remains generally unaffected by external
Western influences. Tucked in among the massively industrialised American
society, the Amish community remain minimally affected by their modern
counterparts. While the
community have managed to live a somewhat segregated life within the confines
of the American state, that does not stop them receiving scrutiny from the
outside world.  Many Americans view the
Amish community as holding on to a fragment of the American past and believe
that their views are both extremely old fashioned and damaging to the
ideologies of the American dream such as progress and success. On the other
hand, there is a portion of American society that view the Amish community as
at all as some believe that their ethics of hard work and stamina are
admirable. A select few also view the community as an escape from the sanity of
an American culture embedded in technology and commercialism. For
this essay I will be analysing the Old Amish community within American society.
I will be examining multiple areas regarding the idea of sameness and difference
within the Amish community by looking at the Amish cultural history, customs,
traditions and clothing as well as assessing if the Amish community are
rejecting the core ideas of the ‘American Dream’ ideology such as progression
and success, by defining the American Dream and it’s explication in the context
of the Amish society.  The Amish have
managed to distinguish themselves as a separate community very affectively and
I will explore this in my essay in relation to the notion of the Amish
community as an ‘us’ in contrast to any outside community as a ‘them’ in
relation to G. W Allport’s theory. I will try to gain an understanding of the
Amish community and will establish what makes them similar to their modern
American counterparts while also reflecting on what makes them stand out in
terms of differences.

 

“The merging of ethnic groups and their communities into the broad
stream of the American community is proceeding at an accelerated rate.
Traditional, small communities, with a distinctive cultural character where
life is lived in a stable context are disappearing from the modern world” (Hostetler, 1963, p. 27). The Amish community
in America has not become a victim of this. Among the ever changing American
landscape, the Amish community has managed to remain somewhat unaffected by the
changing society around them. The roots of the Amish society began in sixteenth
century Europe as the Swiss Antipapist community emerged after the Protestant
Reformation. The growth of the Anabaptist religion grew rapidly during this
period and spread from Vienna to all across Europe and more many, became vastly
unpopular. Many Anabaptists became hunted by people who disagreed with their
beliefs as they wanted to rid Europe of them, “The first martyr was drowned in
1527, over the next few decades, thousands of Anabaptists burned at the stake,
drowned in rivers, starved in prisons, or lost their heads to the executioners
sword.” (Kraybill, 2001, p. 1) The Amish, which
emerged in the beginning as a branch of the Amish community, came to American
during the 1700’s, and in the second half of the 1800’s and many formed Amish
churches within communities in America. This branch of the Amish community is
known as the Old Amish community. The Old Amish is quite different from the New
Amish community that emerged in America during the early 20th
Century. Old Order Amish rejected the conventions of modern society, while on
the other hand, New Order Amish “Sometimes permit their members to drive cars,
use electricity from public power lines, farm with tractors, dress less plain
and worship in meetinghouses” (Kraybill, 2001, p. 1). This form of the
Amish community differs quite significantly as it encourages, rather than
rejects certain advances in American society. While the Old Order Amish have
remain segregated from external American society, the New Order Amish have
somewhat merged into American life. The population of the Old Order Amish
community grew sustainably at the beginning of the twentieth century and has
grown from a humble population of 5,000 to a staggering 130,000, spanning
across twenty – two states. The majority of the Old Order Amish live in Ohio, Pennsylvania
with other branches of the community found in New York and Missouri and this
community makes up 900 church districts. While the Old Order Amish have many
variations of their communities in different cities in America, the core values
remain the same. “Despite the diversity, common badges of identity unite the
Old Order Amish across North America: horse and buggy transportation, the use
of horses and mules for field work, plain dress in many variations, a beard and
shaven upper lip for men, a prayer cap for women, the Pennsylvania German
dialect, worship in homes, an eighth-grade education and the rejection of
public electricity” (Kraybill, 2001,
p. 3).

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The Amish community of the twentieth century typically consists of six
or more children with the average population consisting of fifty percent of
members under the age of eighteen. The community is patriarchial in nature,
with husbands and wives predominately leading family life. While the males hold
the majority of the power within the society, the female members are given a
hegemonic role within society as teachers and nurturers of the young school children.
While the male is considered to be the dominant role within the family
structure, the female is considered to be almost like a higher power, not to be
dismissed, but rather to be treated like a goddess by the male members of the
society. (Kraybill, 2001) Within the small
Amish communities, small groups of relationships exist and is extremely
informal. The education system, which again only educates Amish children until
the eighth grade is the only formal system that operates within the community.
The governance of the community takes place in the form of a committee panel
that discusses various issues that may arise within the community, but
bureaucracy in the Amish community is noticeably absent, with members of the
committee handling issues that occur in schools and issues in relation to
mutual aid. Amish communities also focus on the idea of Gelassenheit, a german
idea that allows for the meetings of groups to take place in members houses,
leading to small group sizes and prevents large group gatherings.

The Amish community rely heavily on symbols in order to convey their
identities.  An example of this symbolism
would be the Amish style of dress. While it may appear that this is a simple
clothing choice, it has layers of meaning and clearly establishes the Amish
identity. The clothing is modest, especially for the women of the community and
this is used as a way to protect the virtues of the community and not draw any
attention to the person wearing the clothing. This is particularly evident in
the women of the community, who have to wear calf length dresses in a range of
plain colours. The aprons that are worn help distinguish between married women,
who wear purple aprons and the unmarried women who wear white aprons, as a sign
of purity. Men on the other hand have a different way of expressing this
symbolism, they grow beards when they become married in order show that they
have begun their passage into manhood. Only men who are married or are over the
age of forty are allowed to grow these beards and under no circumstances are
they allowed to grow moustaches due to the Amish belief that they are
associated with European military practices.

Clothing is not the only area where the Amish differ from the other
areas of American society. Due to the nature of the Amish society, children of
Amish dissent rarely ever wander far from their family’s core belief system, as
these beliefs are deemed to be sacred. In George W. Allport’s text The Nature of Prejudice, Allport
outlines the importance of establishing a child’s place within the “in” group
as a way of allowing the child to understand their role within their own
identity group. The way children are educated within the Amish community
reinforces the idea of the “in” grouping. The children are taken out of school
between the ages of 14-15 years old. This is because the Amish community believe
that it is not necessary for their children to be attending school at all as it
does not match their belief system. The only reason that Amish children are
allowed to pursue education is because it is required by law. The Amish
community has separated schools where vocational education such as crafting
takes place. This segregation of the children reinforces Allport’s idea of the
establishment of the “in” group as part of the Amish identity. Children are not
required to be educated or mixed with other children from different identity
groups as the Amish community believe that this is not required in order to
prepare to partake in the Amish way of life. A child of Amish identity is not
free to accept memberships to other communities, they must simply accept the
core beliefs and value systems that come as part of the Amish identity. (Allport, 1954)

All of the symbols of identity that are mentioned above are key to the
Amish sense of identity, it is what makes the community individual and helps
them stand out among their modern American counterparts. Richard Jenkins
suggests that “identification matters because it is the basic cognitive mechanism
that humans use to sort out themselves and their fellows, individually and
collectively” (Jenkins, 2004). This is important
for the Amish community as their identity is what sets them apart from other
communities within American society. The Amish identity is particularly unique
because there are very few cultures or communities in the entire world that
chose to live their lives in a way that truly immerses themselves within their
own identity. The Amish community live as both a collective and shared identity
which makes the Amish lifestyle so individual. The community takes the Amish
identity and lets in seep into every aspect of their private and community
lives. They reject modern day conventions as a society and the individuals and
this reflects in their core identities. The Amish community are almost
rejecting egalitarian ideals to be equal to their fellow American, as they
chose to isolate themselves from the rest of society by a means of choice
rather than nessicary, “Isolation is not always a matter of
geography or of special interest. It may also be the product of seclusion
behind communal boundaries, such as those which communities contrive through
symbolic means. Here, pragmatic egalitarianism becomes also a rhetorical
expression of the integrity of the community” (Cohen, 2001, p. 36).  This isolation sets the community apart,
making them stand out, making a statement that the Amish community want to be
different from the rest of American society, not because they want to be
considered as societal outcasts, but because they want to exclude themselves
for what they believe are now the downfalls of modern society, such as
electricity and the internet. Cohen goes into detail about the relationship
between identity and community and this is extremely relevant in relation to
the Amish community as their sense of community is so closely linked to the
Amish sense of identity. “The intimate relationship between community and
identity has been described as ‘cultural totemism’ or ‘ethnognomony’ (Schwartz,
1975), these terms suggest that the community and its refraction through self,
marks what it is not, as well as what is, emphasising traits and
characteristics ‘at once emblematic of the groups solidarity and of the group’s
contrasting identity and relation to groups within its ambit of comparison
(Schwarz, 1975, p.108)” (Cohen, 2001, p. 110). 

Jenkins discusses the theory of identity in relation to the idea of
social identity theory and describes how group memberships determine the way
the community would interpret members of what the community would consider
outsiders, or not like themselves. For example “Group membership is meaningful
to individuals, conferring social identity and permitting self-evaluation. It
is a shared representation of who one is and the appropriate behaviour attached
to who one is. Group membership within itself, regardless of its context or
meaning, is sufficient to encourage members to, for example, discriminate
against out group members” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 123).
This group identity leads to a sense of belonging within a community, this
applies particularly to the Amish community as they are separated in clusters
but their sense of identity makes them feel like they belong, even though their
community is so different from other aspects in society. The establishment of a
sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ stated by Cohen expresses how “recognition of a ‘sense
of us’ and the community stems from the awareness that things are done
differently there and the sense of threat that poses for how things are done
here” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 146).