Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman

A common perception of the Amish is that of plain-dressing, hardworking reclusive folks who observe their faith by not drinking alchohol, driving automobiles, or indulging in other modern fixtures of the American mainstream.  But the Amish, like everybody else, go through the trying times of adolescence.  To allow their teenagers to blow off steam before they formally join the church, some Amish communities permit what they call rumspringa, loosely translated as “running around”.  It is a time in which Amish teens are allowed to “do their own thing” before settling down with marriage and family.  Rumspringa can cover such Rumspringa sedate happenings as church singings and picnics, although some teens prefer a wilder edge with partying, drug and alcohol use, and association with non-Amish.  Basically, this period allows Amish youth time to decide if they want the outside world with its fast cars and trappings, or the close community and support of the Amish church.  The majority come back.

This book is a great documentary of these kids and how their raisings both sustain and stifle them.  It also is quite revealing of the changes in Amish society today.  The manners with which the Amish interact with the “English”, in reference to outsiders, are quickly evolving as more Amish follow business interests other than the family farm.  Also, the methods of retaining members are increasingly a challenge for the Amish churches.

Quite a bit of this book will be an eye-opener.  I think that the best thing it does is humanize the Amish.  As simple as their worldview appears, they are anything but simplistic as individuals.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


One Response

  1. Hey there, William. I was considering reading this new & intriguing title (having to balance, as it were, a growing list of books I am eager to dive head-first into!) – and your review has twisted my arm (in a good way 😉
    Having an undergrauate double-degree in Anthropology and Religious Studies, I am so drawn to learning about the beautiful and varied ways in which the human experience has manifested itself, i.e. differing cultures, subcultures, ethnic backgrounds, and the like.

    Myself having been born Jewish (but adhering to a rather secular/humanist worldview as an adult) I have been interested in the Amish for some time now (pleasure-reading a lot about their lifestyle & worldview). It’s funny b/c I am always being asked if I am Amish myself — due to the way I grow/wear my beard. It doesn’t bother me in the least; it actually amuses me slightly and I take it as a compliment, for, as your posting expressed:

    >>As simple as their worldview appears, they are anything but simplistic as individuals.>>

    Indeed, there are great stories to be found among this most interesting of religious ‘subcultures,’ for lack of better descriptor … and the whole aspect of our fast-paced, ‘post-modern’ world, as a sort of backdrop against which these beautiful & inspirational people themselves adapt – or grow – or retain tradition – etc. would, it seems, make for excellent reading for lovers of nonfiction – and perhaps more speifically, in the realm of (multi-)cultural studies, such as myself.
    Thanks for info on this book – and thanks for reading my comments!

    In Peace,
    Jonah M.

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