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On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren (Center Books in Anabaptist Studies) Hardcover – March 20, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Center Books in Anabaptist Studies
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; First Edition edition (March 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801865654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801865657
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Kraybill (sociology and Anabaptist studies, Messiah Coll.; The Riddle of Amish Culture) and Bowman (sociology, Bridgewater Coll.; Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People) examine the four major branches of "Old Order" religions in America and discuss their relationship with the larger culture. They present Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren in separate chapters, giving their history, present practices, and future prospects. The common features and differences of these related sects are clearly explained. An intriguing final chapter considers how these groups may fare in the increasingly postmodern world, which shares their skepticism with science and progress but repudiates all possibility of absolute truth. The authors give the general reader an excellent basic understanding of the beliefs and practices shared by all of these separatists while making the uniqueness of each group clear. One of the best single-volume works on this subject; highly recommended for academic and public libraries. C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By mianfei on October 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a person always curious about lifestyles different from my seemingly mundane existince in suburban Melbourne, the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, with their resistance to technology and extremely gentle and peaceful beliefs, have always fascinated me.

Although other books, such as the "People's Place" series, actually offer a good deal of useful information about specific topics relevant to the Old Order Anabaptist groups, "On the Backroad to Heaven" is the best general work I have read about them. It goes into very good detail into the character and nature of the Hutterites, Old Order Mennonites, Amish and Brethren, including all the aspects that are well-known but also some of their rituals and methods of electing leaders that are little-known yet intriguing (e.g. the use of "lots"). More than that, "On the Backroad to Heaven" not only characterising them but also offering clear and easy-to-read comparisons. At the same time "On the Backroad to Heaven" shows not traces of trying to idealise these groups and expresses very clearly the problems they have coping with a modern world that is in many ways very hostile to the values they hold dearly. Its last part clearly shows how far removed they are from a "postmodern" culture, but yet shows what they have to offer thereto.

On the whole, this is really good work. It is neither biased nor shallow, yet is extremely accessible. I would recommend it to anybody interested in cultural studies, even if not in Anabaptist groups.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Heinrich Friesen on October 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book does a good job of surveying the four groups, and finishes up very strongly when considering the similarities in the groups.

The contrast between the Mennonites and Amish is also very interesting. It is also perhaps the most accurate portion of the book--although he picked some fairly liberal old order Mennonite groups to describe. It would have been a little better to have picked a more traditional Mennonite group.

It is perhaps at its weakest when describing the old order German Baptist Brethren. There are some very embarassing inaccuracies, including garbled German Baptist vocab (referring to family devotions as "taking the text"--a term that refers to the main sermon on Sunday for example) and considering certain very exceptional cases to be representative (a GB cheerleader, who he doesn't reveal had a parent outside the church). The glaring omission in the German Baptist section has to be that down to details such as order of worship and attitude they are extremely similar to the old order Amish--so much so that the two have cooperated on education in the past.

I also found the section on gender strife among the Hutterites to be a little overstated. Hutterites wouldn't see the conflict the way Americans do, or the way the authors do.

Enjoyed it a great deal.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
I found the first few chapters interesting in which the authors profile each of the 4 featured Old-order groups. However, the editing was distracting because the same point was made multiple times in each chapter (in addition to a couple typos). The last couple chapters compare and contrast the 4 groups, but not much new is added I didn't already get in the first chapters. I wish they had touched upon the more progressive branches in each group, comparing Old-order to more modern counterparts, but there was almost no mention of them. Also, the few facts I did know about Old-Orders before reading this book were not discussed (if these are common misconceptions and not facts, they still deserve space in this book). I still give it 3 stars because I was very interested in the descriptions and brief histories of each group.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As the subject line suggestions, I consider this is a fairly nice piece of work. The author does a good job of giving an overview of the four different Old Order groups covered in the book.
Though the author was slightly slanted in favor of some of the Old Orders (Brethren & Amish mainly), this book had neither the rose-colored fluff or scathing condemnation of other publications. There was a description of what worked, what didn't work, what was pious and what was wrong with all four groups.
I would like to have know more intricate detail of each of the group's theology rather than a few snippets of scriptural interpretation and comments from church fathers. I do, however, understand that this book is more of a sociological survey than a theological analysis.
The last few chapters did engage in a repetitious rehash of what has already been covered. I also did find a few typographic errors that didn't get caught by the editor.
Final analysis: If you are new to studying any of these groups, this could certainly would play as a good jumping-off point for further study. If you need to get a quick overview of the groups mentioned, this would also serve your purpose. A more thorough study, however, will require additional reading and research.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Doug Erlandson TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Whereas the beliefs and practices of the Old Order Mennonites and Amish have been the subject of many books, the Old German Baptist Brethren and the Hutterites have received far less press. "On the Backroad to Heaven" performs a valuable service in filling in this gap. After devoting a chapter to each of these four Old Order groups, the last four chapters of the book note the differences between them as well as their commonalities. There is just enough depth in the description and analysis in this book by Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman to provide a decent overview of these fascinating people. This is enough to make it a worthwhile read for those who are not already familiar with one or more of these groups. (Prior to reading this book I had studied the Old Order Amish and Mennonites fairly extensively and had learned something about the Hutterites by having lived in an area where there were a number of Hutterite colonies. I knew next to nothing about the Old German Baptist Brethren. I found the chapter devoted to them to be quite helpful in giving me a sense of who they are.)

The one major drawback is that in describing four separate groups, "On the Backroad to Heaven" might be trying to do too much. As a result, each group appears to be far more monolithic than it really is. For example, personal research has taught me that there are widely different practices among the Amish, in part because the local ordnung governs so much of what is and is not considered acceptable. Thus, the practices of the Swartzentruber Amish of Ohio are far more restrictive than those of, say, the Amish in Lancaster County, PA.
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