Culture & Religion

Research Question
Populations identifying as non-mainstream enact in-group identity through multiple mechanisms, including symbology, habitus, ideology, and institutions. Yet, despite appearances of cohesion, non-mainstream identities are perpetually destabilized through internal conflicts over peoplehood purity. Given this instability, what, then, are the substantive social components of a non mainstream peoplehood, and in what mix-and-match formula do these components coagulate?

To answer these questions, I draw on extensive self-compiled qualitative data sources, including interviews, primary source documents, and ethnography. Further, I inform my interpretations through quotidian insider-outsider participant observations since 2002.

While my research cases mainly focus on plain Anabaptists, including the Amish-Mennonites and Apostolic Christians, I am broadly interested in non-mainstream populations. Topics I study range from religious schisms, to global migration, to identity negotiations around dress symbols, to cultural transmission patterns in adolescent activities, to shifting constructs of gender roles.

Project: An American System of Separatism in Non-American Contexts

Plain Anabaptists hold a doctrine of religious separation from “the world.” Accordingly, many routine behaviors—dress, endogamy/kin relations, ritual, and phraseology—end up symbolizing “our” divinely validated world from “theirs.” But some plain Anabaptists, including the Amish-Mennonites, have also adopted evangelical ideologies, compelling world-focused proselytization that sometimes means moving to far-flung places.

How does the meaning of North American religious separation change when the “mainstream” context changes? How might localized interpretations reshape sectarianism? And what forces—macro and micro—influence the success/failure of both proselytization and sectarian goals?

I explore these questions using personally acquired archival materials, field notes, and over 200 in-depth interviews of Amish-Mennonites from nine countries (in Latin America, Africa, Europe). From sectarians exporting Western religious, economic, and leisure ideologies to prospective religious seekers’ difficulties “getting” how to “be” Amish-Mennonite, these studies show that plain Anabaptists are not be as separate from the North American mainstream as we think.

  • Demonstrates how globalization shapes and transforms ethnic sectarian religions.
  • Demonstrates how mission theologies contain logical paradoxes that inform internal conflicts and results in diverse approaches to in-group social positioning toward non- adherents.
  • Illustrates how ethnic and cultural habit uses may adapt, persist, or create tensions when groups migrate across global contexts.
  • Examines implications of religious globalization and transnational movements.
  • Provides case studies of how sectarian evangelical religious ideologies spread globally.
  • Analyzes how political, institutional, and cultural contexts interact with and constrain sectarian religious groups.
  • Traces how charismatic religious innovators instigate global movements and transformations within traditional religious groups.
  • Adoption of evangelical ideologies compelled some Amish-Mennonites to attempt global outreach and transplantation, despite traditionally separatist orientations.
  • Transplantation efforts reveal tensions between maintaining ethnic homogeneity and the outward focus of evangelism.
  • Both mainstream North American cultural frames and familiar sectarian problem-solving strategies often inadvertently perpetuate social distances and inequalities during global interactions.
  • Stabilization of an ethnic sectarian church presence abroad depends on selectively integrating aspects of the host culture, retaining sectarian indicators meaningful to both cultures, and disengaging with destabilizing aspects of both North American mainstream culture and Amish-Mennonite sectarianism.
  • Global political and institutional dynamics both constrain and enable Amish-Mennonite international activity.

North America’s Amish-Mennonites Adopt Abroad: The Ideologies and Institutional Conditions That Cracked the Homogeneity of an Ethnic Religion

Social Compass
Anderson, Cory, and Jennifer Anderson. 2023.

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The ‘Evangelization by Colonization’ Movement and the Amish-Mennonite Migration to Costa Rica

Mennonite Quarterly Review
Anderson, Cory, and Jennifer Anderson. 2020.

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The Amish-Mennonites across the Globe

Amish-Mennonite Heritage Series Vol. 2.
Anderson, Cory, and Jennifer Anderson. 2019.

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Sanctifying Leisure: International Tourism among America’s Amish-Mennonites

American Studies Journal
Anderson, Cory, and Jennifer Anderson. 2017.

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The Amish Settlement in Honduras, 1968-1978: A (Half) Failed Attempt to Develop an Amish Understanding of Mission

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Cory, and Jennifer Anderson. 2016.

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Conservative Mennonite Storybooks and the Construction of Evangelical Separatism

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Jennifer, and Cory Anderson. 2014.

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Project: Identities, Ideologies, and Institutions: The Perpetual Destabilization of Ethnic Sectarianism

Ethnic sectarianism is easily misunderstood as an impermeable, stable system.

In actuality, by its very definition, ethnic sectarianism is an inherently unstable peoplehood project.

Being a numeric minority, ethnic sectarians rely on posterity—raised in the system—to embrace the relevance of religious peoplehood. Such inescapable tenuousness triggers routine alarm about the system’s potential compromise.

Alarm is played out in institutions through social/religious rules. But such regulation, in turn, invites pushback among adherents who are less alarmed or even disadvantaged by these rules.

This research project consists of numerous cases of plain Anabaptists grappling with social change at the intersection of agency, rhetoric, institutions, symbology, and theology, demonstrating the inherent tenuousness of ethnic sectarianism.

Can a New Layer of Leadership Save Sectarian Practice? A Decentralized Denomination’s Experiment with a Central Committee

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Cory. 2019.

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Of Process, Practice, and Belief: What Can We Learn about Old Amish Church History and Polity from this Special Issue’s Source Documents

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Cory. 2019.

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A Socio-Religious Introduction to the Apostolic Churches in North America

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Cory. 2018.

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An Evangelical Reorientation: The Contribution of Beachy Amish-Mennonite Mothers

Mothering Mennonite
Anderson, Cory. 2013.
Pp. 236-55

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Who Are the Plain Anabaptists? What Are the Plain Anabaptists?

Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies
Anderson, Cory. 2013.

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The Amish-Mennonites of North America: A Portrait of Our People

Amish-Mennonite Heritage Series Vol. 1.
Anderson, Cory. 2012.

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Congregation or Conference? The Development of Beachy Amish Polity and Identity

Mennonite Historical Bulletin
Anderson, Cory. 2011.

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Retracing the Blurred Boundaries of the Twentieth-Century ‘Amish Mennonite’ Identity

Mennonite Quarterly Review
Anderson, Cory. 2011.

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Other Projects

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