Functionalism; Explanation; Riddles; Gelassenheit; Panglossian; Consensus vs. conflict


Much of contemporary Amish scholarship manifests an implicit functionalist paradigm that harkens back to mid-20th-century social science. This perspective tends toward optimistic, even “Panglossian,” explanation of traits, in which everything that the Amish do or believe has a use, purpose, or reason; i.e., a function. The vagaries of history and the ebb and flow of power may be acknowledged, but they are relegated to minor explanatory factors. This essay provides a close reading of Donald Kraybill’s popular The Riddle of Amish Culture. It demonstrates the functionalist premises behind many of the explanations offered in Riddle, despite the fact that the author provides sufficient information for the reader to come to different conclusions about how aspects of Amish life came to be what they are. That the Amish themselves read and respect Kraybill’s work leads to a paradoxical situation in which Kraybill’s narratives are taken to be true explanations, which then become another doctrine that must not be debated or self-corrected.


We thank our wonderful students in ANT263 (The Amish) at Franklin & Marshall College. And, of course, we thank our wonderfully patient wives: Heidi Wolf and Geniene Leanza.



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