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Watching the Amish riding their horse drawn carriages through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you catch a glimpse of how life would have been 150 years ago. The Amish, without their electricity, cars, and television appear to be a static culture, never changing. This, however, is just an illusion. In fact, the Amish are a dynamic culture that is, through market forces and other means, continually interacting with the enormously tempting culture of America. So, one might be led to wonder how a culture like the Amish, one that seems so anachronistic, has not only survived but has grown and flourished while surrounded by a culture that would seem to be so detrimental to its basic ideals. The Amish, through biological reproduction, resistance to outside culture, compromise, and a strong ethnic symbolism have managed to stave off a culture that waits to engulf them. Why study the Amish? One answer would be, of course, to learn about their seemingly pure cooperative society and value system (called Ordung). From this, one may hope to learn how to better America's problem of individualism and lack of moral or ethical beliefs. However, there is another reason to study the Amish. Because the Amish have remained such a large and distinct culture from our own, they provide an opportunity to study the affects of cultural transmission, resistance, and change, as well as the results of strong symbolism in maintaining ethnic and cultural isolation.
The Amish originated from the Anabaptist movement of the early 1500s in Switzerland. Jacob Amman, who believed in conserving traditions and separation from the world more than the other Anabaptist, led a split from the Swiss “Mennonite” Brethren in 1693. Since the early 1700s when they first arrived in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” the Amish have been living a simple lifestyle in accordance with their religious beliefs. There are approximatel...
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