Amish Life: Southern Rural Sociology

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  • Topic: Amish, Anabaptist, Rumspringa
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SOUT H ERN RURAL SOCIOLOGY, 23(2), 2008, pp. 226-251 Copyright © by the Southern Rural Sociological Association

AMISH VICTIMIZATION AND OFFENDING: A RURAL SUBCULTURE'S EXPERIENCES AND RESPONSES TO CRIME AND JUSTICE* BRYAN D. BYERS BALL STATE UNIVERSITY ABSTRACT This article addresses several areas as applied to the rural subculture of the Amish. First, the Old Order Amish will be introduced to the reader. Distinctions will be made between the Old Order Amish and other, cousin, groups. Second, discussion will center on the victimization of Old Order Amish. Several illustrations will be offered along with theories that attempt to explain these phenomena. Third, attention will be given to offending and deviant behavior among the Old Order Amish. Particular focus is placed on Amish youth. Fourth, discussion will turn to the restorative justice model as an effective manner of dealing with criminal justice matters and the Old Order Amish in rural settlements. This model, it will be argued, is ideal for the Old Order Amish based on several subcultural factors. Fifth, and finally, the author will provide some potentially fruitful directions for future research on Old Order Amish social and justice issues.

The Amish have long been a curiosity among many, often called the “peculiar people.” Superficially, such curiosity stems from their unique subcultural ways including one of their main differences–costume. There are many other differences, however, which distinguish the Amish from the larger culture and society of the United States. While costume is a superficial means of understanding the Amish, dress is indicative and symbolic of many other more deeply rooted differences. Social differences, coupled with contact between Amish and non-Amish (“English”) can lead to interesting, and sometimes tragic, encounters. THE OLD ORDER AMISH IN AMERICAN SOCIETY A Brief History Many believe they know who the Amish are as a group, yet few people know their history and the importance this history has had in shaping them over time. Two authors, John Hostetler (1955, 1964, 1993) and Donald Kraybill (1989, 2001), have written extensively about the Old Order Amish. One of Hostetler’s main

The author would to thank and acknowledge Lyn Winchell, Text Librarian with The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana for her assistance with resources for this article. The author is also grateful to Guest Editor Dr. Daniel Phillips with Southern Rural Sociology. 226

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works, Amish Society (1993), is considered an authoritative work on the Amish. One of Donald Kraybill’s many scholarly works about the Old Order Amish, The Riddle of Amish Culture (2001), is an important source for understanding the apparent contradictions and perceived mysterious ways of this sect. These books along with their precursors, such as William Schreiber’s Our Amish Neighbors (1962), serve as important sources concerning Amish culture and customs.1 Old Order Amish who reside in the United States are descended from those belonging to the Swiss Anabaptist movement found in 16th century Europe and can be traced back to the Swiss Brethren of the early 16th century (Hostetler 1955, 1993). “Anabaptist,” translated, means “re-baptizer” because these individuals were first baptized within the Catholic faith but believed in adult baptism. The Anabaptists were born of the religious rebellion over official state church doctrine that resulted in the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptist beliefs including non violence, refusal to take oaths, and the belief in adult, rather than infant baptism, made them the targets of much abuse that included torture and execution. This treatment is chronicled in a 1,000 plus page book of images and descriptions called the Martyrs Mirror. Copies of this book, along with the Bible, can be found in many Old Order Amish homes today. The Mirror is an important historical document to the Amish since...
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