" ALTERNATE DREAMS AND VISIONS: THE AMISH REPERTOIRE OF COMMUNITY ON THE IOWA PRAIRIE, 1840-1910"

by Steven Dale Reschly

Amish families and individuals established a community during the nineteenth century in Johnson County, Iowa. In addition to transporting their other belongings over the ocean and across North America, the Amish bore a repertoire of community. This repe rtoire, comprising mentalities and social structures fashioned in response to historical exigencies, was well-suited for one purpose: to create and maintain their cherished communal life. This dissertation utilizes social historical sources and comparative methods to interpret the unique Amish configuration of community and its alteration over time. While the Amish shared mental structures and behavior patterns with other rural ethno-reli gious groups in Iowa, each group's particular combination of these components was different. The Amish historical experience of marginality and persecution in early modern Europe, and of an aggressive assimilating culture in North America, formed a commu nal ethos and praxis rooted in separation from the world and flexible experimentation in lifestyle. Narratives of critical episodes, buttressed by quantitative and comparative analysis of census and land records, reveal the various components as they too k shape. The narratives trace the paradoxical stability and adaptability of the Amish repertoire of community, reflected in the dreams of Amish Bishop Jacob Swartzendruber and the visions of sleeping preacher Noah Troyer. The phrase "repertoire of community" addresses a pair of recalcitrant issues in social theory: holding both structure and change in the same analytical framework; and including both mentalité and behavior in historical narrative. Chapters on the Amish a gricultural system, household organization, relationship to the modern nation-state, and ethos of private property illustrate critical moments in the formation of an Amish communal prototype. The unexpected sleeping preacher illuminates the social and me ntal periphery of the Amish repertoire. Chapters on the subsequent separation of Old Order Amish and Amish-Mennonites in Iowa during the 1880s and 1890s, the delayed arrival of the disastrous Amish Great Schism, trace changes and stabilities in Amish agr iculture, household formation, religious outlook, and migration. These chapters and this dissertation suggest that the idealized Old Order Amish lifestyle, beloved of tourists and feature writers in contemporary America, was in fact a contingent, histori cal development.


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