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The Hutterites in North America.

The Hutterites in North America. By Rod Janzen and Max Stanton. Young Center Books in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. xx + 373 pp. $45.00 cloth.

Hutterites, named after their sixteenth-century leader, Jacob Hutter, are communal Anabaptists. Their roots extend to Reformation-era Austria; persecution drove them to the Crimea and then to the northern plains of the United States and Canada, where they currently reside. At one point in the 1760s, Hutterite membership sank to under fifty, but since arriving in the Dakota territories in the 1870s, their numbers have risen to over forty-nine thousand, and despite inroads from evangelicalism, Hutterites are flourishing. Rod Janzen and Max Stanton have written an all-inclusive and interesting account of contemporary Hutterite society.

The coauthors represent several fields. Janzen is a historian and social science educator, and Stanton, an anthropologist and geographer. They describe their book as both a "sociocultural and a historical analysis" (xvii). Although most of the text explains modem Hutterite life, equally instructive early chapters recount the history of the movement.

Hutterites live in communes. Like other Old Order Anabaptists, they believe in separation from the world, which their isolation on the wide-open prairie facilitates, and they dress plainly and practice non-resistance. But unlike other Anabaptists, they practice a communal economy, and private property is limited. The community provides the housing and automobiles, a relatively small number per capita held in common, and it makes its own furniture. Although each family lives in its own apartment, Hutterite life has little privacy, and when an adolescent couple, for example, met one night behind the hog bain, the next day everybody in the settlement knew it. Meals are taken in a communal dining hall with men and women on opposite sides, and children ages five to fifteen eat in a separate building. Holding back earnings from the community is a serious offense, but some Hutterite groups quietly look the other way when individuals acquire a little extra purchasing power. Consequently, an underground market consisting mostly of female-produced crafts supplies small amounts of cash for private purchases, allowing individuals to acquire items such as hot plates, guitars, or ice skates at garage sales and thrift stores. Additionally, some Hutterites own computers, CD and DVD players, and cell phones, all of which are officially banned but tolerated if used discreetly. Thus, the community's influence is all-encompassing but with sufficient flexibility to make it work.

Janzen and Stanton have spent years visiting Hutterite communes, and they are close to their subjects. The authors portray Hutterites positively, labeling them an "amazing people" with an "innovative perspective on the problems and opportunities of the twenty-first century." Moreover, the authors believe that Hutterite colonies on the Great Plains "present an alternative social model for dealing with fast-paced change and the constant barrage . . . of modem life" (xvii). The last words of the book claim that even those who do not believe in an afterlife "can stare in amazement at the social and ideological power and example of the Hutterite communal order here on earth" (306). The suspicion is that if Janzen and Stanton wrote a more objective book, they might lose access to their subjects, although in fairness their work simply shows unabashed admiration for Hutterites.

The delight of this book is in the details. Janzen and Stanton reveal that Hutterites are a separate ethnic group with their own language, Hutterisch, a Carinthian-Austrian dialect that has collected numerous Russian and English words as the movement followed its diaspora. Hutterites are all descended from eleven families. Hutterite women never cut their hair. Progressive women wear their head coverings slightly further back on the head than conservatives. Hutterite children are extremely confident and well-adjusted. Although Hutterite numbers are growing, more men than women defect, and women struggle to find mates. In worship, ministers read from a collection of sixteenth-century German sermons, but many Hutterites, particularly the young, listen to contemporary religious music, especially the tunes of Butch Wipf, a Hutterite composer. When one of the coauthors visited a conservative Hutterite community, he received a warning to watch for handholding among married couples in a more progressive settlement. Indeed, the book is a slow read for the right reason: a quick pace might miss an intriguing nugget.

As much pleasure as the details bring, the prominence given to the data also becomes a liability. The Hutterite movement has several branches, and the authors catalog their differences in well-informed but perhaps too much detail. The book might benefit from greater attention to thesis and organization, and the organizational priority of the data is not apparent. The notion that Hutterites are an acceptable alternative social system to modernity has potential as a theme, but the book is not organized around this concept. On another level, the authors describe the German teacher and his wife as "one of the most important" (188) persons in the Hutterite community. German teachers, Janzen and Stanton explain, spend considerable time with their students, including meals, and they interpret Hutterite life, usually with a conservative bent, for their pupils and guide young, maturing adolescents into Hutterite adulthood. Yet this "most important" person in the settlement is not fully described until page 188, and after three pages the topic is dropped. This seems a brief treatment for someone so significant, and it illustrates the book's larger weaknesses of organization and theme.

Those interested in a briefer survey of Hutterites with more analysis might look at the chapter on Hutterites in Donald B. Kraybiehl and Carl D. Bowman, On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). Janzon and Stanton, however, have written a comprehensive and appealing description of Hutterites that should become a definitive work and read by those looking for an interesting book in the field of American religion.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640710002040

Steve Longenecker

Bridgewater College
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Author:Longenecker, Steve
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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