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Fall 1995 · Vol. 24 No. 2 · pp. 101–2 

Book Review

The Mennonite Mosaic: Identity and Modernization

J. Howard Kauffman and Leo Driedger. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1991. 308 pages.

Reviewed by Rick Schellenberg

How does modernization affect the processes of change and ethnic identity in the Mennonite community? Kauffman and Driedger, sociologists from Goshen College (retired) and University of Manitoba, worked with survey data from 1989 and compared it with a similar survey done in 1972. The dimensions of modernization (urbanization, education, occupation, income and mobility) impact the dimensions of Mennonite identity (the sacred, community, family, institutions and ethnicity). They subscribe to an understanding of modernization as a dialectic in which at least three opposing forces are at work: secularization vs. sacralization, individualism vs. communalism, and materialism vs. peoplehood.

This book is intended for church and denominational leaders. The five Mennonite bodies surveyed are the Mennonite Church, the General Conference, the Mennonite Brethren, the Brethren in Christ, and the Evangelical Mennonite Church. A brief historical overview of the origins and immigration patterns of these groups is included. A regional overview provides background for later comparisons.

Survey results on the sources of Mennonite identity are organized as listed above. The religious dimensions focused on doctrinal orthodoxy, fundamentalism and Anabaptism. The conclusion is that Anabaptism is unaffected by modernization, while fundamentalism and orthodoxy are. As to community, these findings do not support the assumptions that demographic modernization yields greater secularism, individualism, and materialism among Mennonites (101). In terms of family life, significant increases were noted in the divorce rate and the rate of employment of married women. However, despite urbanization, Mennonites seem to preserve most of the positive values in family life (124).

Adaptation to North American society impacts service networks, moral issues, and dimensions of modernization described above. The comparison of denominations indicated that the Mennonite Brethren were the most modernized group of all those studied (urbanized, highest education, highest income). They were also ranked highly on Bible knowledge, evangelism and devotionalism. However, they ranked much lower on moral issues, the role of women in the church, group identity, and involvement in community organizations.

The authors’ conclusion is that Mennonite canopies (cultural solidarity) are still firmly held in place by strong theological, community, family, and institutional stakes, so that Mennonite peoplehood and consciousness of a kind persist, while adaptions and adjustments to the larger society occur (251).

To my mind, the categories of Anabaptist, fundamentalist and orthodox were artificial and not helpful. Their treatment of the implications of modernization seemed weakest here. Moreover, as they indicated, no study was done on those who have left the churches, a number that was substantial. So the analysis of change reflects only those who have remained in the Mennonite churches or have been added recently.

Rick Shellenberg
Dean of Students
Bethany Bible Institute
Hepburn, Saskatchewan

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