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Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 132–33 

Book Review

Mennonite Society

Calvin W. Redekop. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. 397 pages.

Reviewed by Stanley A. Clark

Ambitious books are always risky business. Perhaps it is simply too ambitious to attempt, in 370 pages of text and tables, to tell the story of the origin, development, institutional life, and future of the Anabaptist movement. This was Redekop’s goal in writing Mennonite Society; depending on one’s expectations for a book of this kind, he just may have pulled it off.

The author is a Professor of Sociology at Conrad Grebel College (Ontario). He has taught at five Mennonite colleges, and has written other books and articles on Mennonite life. His analytical skills are finely tuned, he knows the literature, and he has lived the life; it is hard to imagine better qualifications for authoring a book of this nature.

Part I provides a brief historical overview of the Mennonite movement, with a focus on the impact of migration and persecution on Mennonite identity. Serious students of history will want to read more comprehensive works. The tables and graphs are helpful.

Part II describes the “Mennonite ethos.” Redekop defines the religious basis on which Mennonite community is founded, and how the belief system is maintained. “Peoplehood” is the centerpiece of the community, and the Mennonite personality is a driving force in shaping the character of contemporary social and religious life.

Part III is a systematic review of various institutions in Mennonite society, including the family, education, economics, politics, and missions. Redekop describes the unique ways in which Mennonites have brought their faith to bear on their social institutions and practices, and the struggles that have resulted from this process.

Part IV analyzes how the Anabaptist movement has changed through the centuries, in response to the many stresses and threats it has encountered. Redekop provides his own interpretive summary of the Mennonite experience, which is probably the highlight of the monograph. The Appendix includes an extensive typological analysis of the Mennonites, and exhaustive endnotes.

Mennonite Society was not written for the casual reader; it assumes a background in sociology and religious studies. It {133} was designed to introduce non-Mennonites to the Anabaptist culture. As a sociological treatise, it does an excellent job of both describing and explaining the existence and shape of Anabaptism in North America.

Parts of this book will make Mennonite readers squirm; however, Redekop’s analysis is thought-provoking from cover to cover. As a Mennonite and a sociologist, I could not put the book down. It should be required reading for anyone who works in a Mennonite institution, or who seeks to gain a scholarly understanding of life among “the people of God.”

Stanley A. Clark
Dean of Academic Affairs
Tabor College
Hillsboro, Kansas

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