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v2.1 Reference

On the Backroad to Heaven

Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren

On the Backroad to Heaven is a unique guide to the world of Old Order Anabaptist groups. Focusing on four Old Order communities—the Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren—Donald B. Kraybill and Carl Desportes Bowman provide a fascinating overview of their culture, growth, and distinctive way of life. Following a general introduction to Old Order culture, they show how each group uses a different strategy to create and sustain its identity. The Hutterites, for example, keep themselves geographically segregated from the larger society, whereas the Brethren interact more freely with it. The Amish and Mennonites are more alike in how they engage the outside world, adopting a complex but flexible strategy of compromise that produces an evolving canon of social and religious rules. This first comparative study sketches the differences as well as the common threads that bind these groups together.

About the Authors

Donald B. Kraybill is Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. Widely recognized for his work on Anabaptist groups, he has authored and edited many books, including The Riddle of Amish Culture and The Amish and the State, both available from Johns Hopkins. Carl Desportes Bowman is a professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Bridgewater College. Nationally recognized for his scholarship and publications on Brethren groups, he is the author of Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People, also available from Johns Hopkins.


"The authors give the general reader an excellent basic understanding of the beliefs and practices shared by all of these separatists while making the uniqueness of each group clear. One of the best single-volume works on this subject; highly recommended."

- Library Journal

"This look at the history, similarities and differences between four groups of Old Order faithful in North America—Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish and Brethren—is fascinating... A book that, in one volume, tackles history, sociology and future trends—and does it well."

- J. Brent Bill - Christian Century

"A complex, sympathetic, and delightfully nuanced argument that perhaps only such a comparative perspective could produce. The groups in question are depicted not as 'cultural fossils' or 'modern day Luddites' but instead as committed Christians who have made rational choices to stem the tides of modernity that they perceive as destructive to their faith."

- Perry Bush - American Historical Review

"The best effort so far in the task of comparing Old Order ethno-religious groups in North America."

- Steven D. Reschly - Journal of American Ethnic History

"On the Backroad to Heaven is above all an intelligent and accessible introduction to contemporary Old Order communities... This would be a valuable text in many courses on contemporary Western Religion."

- Anna L. Peterson - Religious Studies Review

"Kraybill and Bowman have jointly produced a rich volume that clearly lives up to the promise of their earlier work... [Their] discussion displays both wide accessibility and exemplary clarity and rigor... General readers will find this book stimulating and rewarding."

- Peter C. Blum - Mennonite Quarterly Review

"The material on the Amish and Hutterites in Backroad is excellent, ranking with the best of the sizable amount of literature that is available on both groups. Kraybill and Bowman have provided more information on the Old Order Mennonites and Old German Baptist Brethren than one will find almost anywhere else. This book is recommended not only as an introduction to the four groups, but also as a fairly comprehensive guide to their beliefs and practices."

- Stephen Scott - Ohio History

"As one has come to expect from books written by Don Kraybill and by Carl Desportes Bowman, the organization of On the Backroad to Heaven is logical and coherent. References to recent phenomena—such as the media frenzy surrounding the unfortunate drug case involving Amish youth—as well as the inclusion of the latest scholarship should make this a book that will appeal to academic and general readers alike."

- Donald F. Durnbaugh, Professor Emeritus, Bethany Theological Seminary, editor of The Brethren Encyclopedia

"This is a model ethnography of four pacifist, Christian sectarian groups... It is a bold attempt to bring together four significant 'old order' groups and, through comparitive analysis, create a typology of 'old order' society or, as the authors put it, 'to see Old Orderliness across a spectrum'... This is a perceptive and rigorous ethnographic study, well conceptualized and sensibly executed."

- Royden Loewen - Great Plains Research

"On the Backroad to Heaven presents an accurate and very informative comparative picture of four Old Order groups in North America."

- David Rempel Smucker - Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"The book speaks to classic sociological questions in its exploration of how these four groups [Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Brethren] are constantly responding to changes in the surrounding Gesellschaft society... I highly recommend the book for its thorough coverage of Old Order history, values, beliefs, and lifestyles and for its interesting comparative focus."

- Daniel V. A. Olson - Contemporary Sociology

"This work is insightful, informative, and so easy to read that I had a hard time putting it down! "

- Ed Robbins - Provident Book Finder

"A readily accessible and eminently readable introduction to a seemingly anachronistic world that remains vital in the twenty-first century."

- Timothy Miller - Kansas History


"In sorting out the puzzles and complexities of the Anabaptist movement in America today, there are no other social scientists doing more important work than Donald Kraybill and Carl Desportes Bowman. In their new book, On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, they have done it again. They perform the most significant comparative analysis of these faith traditions to date. Their work not only informs us of the different strategies they pursue in surviving the challenges of the modern world, but it also provides a prism through which we see the weaknesses and deficiencies of contemporary American culture."

- James Davison Hunter, author of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America and The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil
Johns Hopkins University Press
Center Books in Anabaptist Studies
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9780801870897 : on-the-backroad-to-heaven-kraybill-bowman
Paperback / softback
352 Pages
$24.00 USD

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