Who are they?

Despite their European origin, today the members of the Old Order Amish are primarily found in North America. In the United States (USA) their settlements are spread over twenty-four states and in the province of Ontario in Canada. Despite the absence of accurate member statistics, one way of estimating their Amish population is by counting church districts. The Amish divide their society into settlements (or communities), which consists of districts. Every district consists of twenty-five to thirty households. A household is defined by the established nuclear family; if there are several nuclear families living on one farm these are all counted as separate household units. In 2001 there were 200 Amish settlements in the US, and 10 in Canada.

The Amish base their social organisation on religious beliefs and interpretations of the Bible. The group can be seen as a prolonging of what has been called the Anabaptist movement that followed the early reformation in Europe in the sixteenth century. The Amish are a conservative people, and taking a stance towards the greater society and modernity is one of their main strategies to maintain the lives they find proper. This is confirmed in all aspects of Amish life. They have their own schools, they value agriculture in preference to working for non-Amish, and they will not buy the newest equipment for use in their farming. The houses have no electricity, there are usually no indoor bathrooms, and in the kitchen a wood-burning stove is used for cooking. Coil or kerosene lamps are used to light the rooms. They do not own cars for transportation, but use horses-and-buggies. As for the latter, their means of transportation has become an important means to keep the family gathered, as well as being a prevalent marker of the Amish in contrast to their surroundings. Additionally, Old Order Amish worship in their homes or barns depending on the number of Amish attending. These are only some examples of the conservatism of the Old Order Amish. In other words, being Amish means, in the most fundamental way, rejection of the greater society.


One might ask what motivated me to conduct fieldwork among the Amish. I have minored in religious studies and wanting to relate this interest to an exciting and unusual fieldwork, the Amish communities seemed intriguing. My fascination with religion has to do especially with functional aspects. Religion, as cosmology, gives a feeling of «safety» by providing answers to fundamental and existential questions otherwise unanswered. Accordingly, religion provides explanations on cosmogony and is also often apocalyptic, and therefore gives meaning to the lives people lead. One kind of faith is the individual and personal, but I find it even more intriguing when it comes to religious beliefs encouraging believers to take a distinct stance towards the rest of the society, as is the case with the Old Order Amish. Little has been done on the Amish in Canada, which made my preparations for fieldwork quite challenging. I therefore base my knowledge on my own experiences as well as literature on the Amish in the US as a comparative study.

Link to pdf-file containg parts of my thesis

Experiences and findings

Most of what I learned was through «being with» Amish. I participated in their everyday life, and worked alongside them from dawn till dusk. I milked cows and gathered eggs; we were haying, greening and working in the vegetable gardens. Additionally, I helped the women clean the house, do the laundry, canning fruits and looking after the smaller children. At times it was challenging both physically and at certain points also emotionally, as the role of an anthropologist is not learned over night. Living with the Amish is synonymous with long days of hard work, and barely time for relaxation prior to bedtime.

During my stay I did detect one major difference between Amish settlements from the U.S. and Canada, which has not to my knowledge been emphasised elsewhere. There are four basic social groupings in Amish communities in the United States. These are the household-unit (married couples and their offspring), the settlement (Amish families in contiguous relationships), the church district (the ceremonial unit), and various affiliations (church districts within a settlement that share the same discipline and commune together). However, social organisation in Canada contrasts with the situation in the United States. In the United States only certain districts within a settlement live by the same Ordnung, which again makes it impossible for all the districts within a settlement to affiliate. This is not the case in Canada. The Canadian settlements are, to a higher degree, limited units, within which one Ordnung is followed. Therefore, the districts within one Canadian settlement can all affiliate if necessary.

Amish explained that one reason for this difference of organisation within settlements in the United States and Canada is the size of the settlements. Since there are fewer Amish members in the settlements in Ontario, it is easier for all the members of the districts to comply with the same Ordnung. The differences in social organisation between Amish settlements in the USA and in Canada show to different pattern of co-operation and social integration within the groups. The differences reflect the settlements' history and also how their Ordnung is interpreted by not sharing the same terms for divisions within the settlements. Affiliations outside the boundaries of the settlements in Canada occur only if one settlement lacks church leaders to have regular church services or when one visits another settlement. This practise is related to geographical distances and whether the settlement is of Canada or USA migrant origin. One reason for this distinction is differences in devotional books. Prayer books and songbooks used in church and on an everyday basis are different. Additionally, Amish from the two countries share language, although with dialectical differences. Despite this, one is close to the members of one's own church district, although the sense of closeness to those belonging to one's settlement also seems to be strong.

Theoretical perspectives
from my thesis

Main focus in my thesis is on production and reproduction of the communities, discussed with a focus on the Old Order Amish' understanding of their place in the world, their perception of who they are, how they perceive and are perceived by «the others». One such theme is the Amish community itself; social organisation within Amish society and the role of its members. This leads to further questionings of how members of the communities relate to members of greater society, which is another main theme. As reproduction of Amish communities was one of the main topics, I discuss this matter through a presentation of significant rituals and ceremonies within Amish communities. The importance of the rituals presented is based on how they give a presentation of Amish religious faith and practices. Additionally, I believe they can describe the Amish person's role in the community, in terms of social positioning, which appears crucial when trying to investigate the above-mentioned themes.

Link to pdf-fil on how my thesis is structured.

Stories from the field

The stories below are all from my thesis. I must therefore emphasise that all informants are anonymous and nothing can be traced back to any of my Amish friends. Click on the title of the story you wish to read: Bon Amish voyage!

Amish Baptism
Converting to the amish
Gender segregation
Amish Magazines
An amish school meeting
An amish school sale
Amish Sunday School
Thesis content
«Travelling amish»
An amish wedding
Working amish

«We are in this world, not of it.»
Amish saying based on the idea of sanctification from the Bible
Design and development by Impress Publisering