Amish affiliations; Amish-themed romance novels; Amish quilts; Feminism; Conservative Mennonite; Gertrude Enders Huntington; Heirarchy; Louis Dumont; Heteropraxy; Change; Identity
Who should respond to a cultural anthropologist’s monograph about Amish women? In developing a symposium for Karen Johnson-Weiner’s The Lives of Amish Women, the author’s own text provided an answer. Inasmuch as Johnson-Weiner frequently quotes the voices of Amish women, how about an Amish woman offering an unmediated voice? And inasmuch as Johnson-Weiner quotes many plain Anabaptist women authors, how about one of the writers whom she discusses, an opportunity for the spoken about to speak back? And, finally, inasmuch as Johnson-Weiner’s disciplinary home is cultural anthropology, what about a cultural anthropologist who is experienced in Amish research?
And that became the slate, a two-prong approach facilitating the emic view from a couple of plain women and an assessment of the theoretical moorings from the discipline of anthropology. Homemaker, author, herbalist, musicologist, and Amish adherent Gracia “Schlabach”—now Mrs. Lynn Marcus Miller of Arthur, IL, as of October—has published two major books, the widely referenced Gracia’s Herbs and Now Thank We All Our God: A Guide to Six German Hymnals. She is also a current collaborator with her husband and others on a German school curriculum, the first workbook of the Regenbogen series having been released this year. She has published two articles in the Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies, addressing music and Russian Mennonite schooling in Mexico, developed from her own work as a teacher there.
Sheila Petre is a prolific author/editor, homemaker and mother of seven, and Conservative Mennonite adherent living in Pennsylvania. She is well respected among plain Anabaptist women authors, and has made great contributions to writer networks, best represented in the three editions of her Vignettes: Anabaptist Women Writers, which includes profiles from just over 400 Amish, Amish-Mennonite, Conservative Mennonite, Old Order Mennonite, German Baptist, Russian Mennonite, Charity/Remnant, and other plain Anabaptist writers. She is a frequent columnist in plain Anabaptist periodicals, including Ladies’ Journal, from which some of her words were used in Johnson-Weiner’s book.
Vlatka Škender recently completed her doctoral work in anthropology at the Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität in Münster, Germany. Her dissertation, titled “The Narrow Path: Cosmology and Social Reproduction of Amish Society,” evaluates the Amish social and cultural system following Louis Dumont’s theories of individualism and holisim. A portion of this dissertation was published in the spring issue of JAPAS (Vol. 8 No. 1). She is a philosophical intellectual whose writing precision and theoretical sharpness permits a pleasingly nuanced delineation of Johnson-Weiner’s undergirding theoretical emphases.
As both an academic scholar and plain Anabaptist adherent, I find that this symposium raises more questions than it answers, questions about the utility of theory for understanding gender, complications with the rather fluid category of Amish, underlying value systems informing discussions of what should be, the tension between the etic and emic perspective, assumptions about what inherently represents subject matter of interest, representation (and appropriation) of “the other” in popularly oriented scholarship, the indispensability of reflexivity for ethnographic researchers especially when researcher-subject ideological differences are sharp, and the complicated interaction of scholarly interpretive authority and the voices of the people written about. And as this special issue’s authors all attest, and our reviewers affirm, the conversation is just starting.
—Cory Anderson, JAPAS editor
Miller, Gracia, Sheila Petre, and Vlatka Škender. 2020. "Symposium Review of The Lives of Amish Women—Karen Johnson-Weiner." Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 8(2):185-94.