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The ethnographic study is focused on social change and survival of Amish people. There are varied views regarding the Amish community. Since the community leads a simplified way of life, many questions arise regarding ability to accept social changes. A research is centered on finding more information on the community through observation, interviews and written artifacts concerning the community.
A phone call to one of the member of the community with whom I had previous contact enabled collection of field notes through interview. Due to time constrains, the researcher was only able to make a call to one family. The following is an excerpt of how the interview went;
Researcher: why are you named Amish?
Interviewee: The history of the Amish people begun around 1693 after formation of a church lead by Jakob Ammann. The name Amish refers to people who followed Ammann teachings
Researcher: what is so special about your group?
Interviewee: we are people who follow biblical teachings strictly. We believe we do not belong to this world, but are just pilgrims on our way to heaven.
Researcher: can you please explain to me what makes you special and believe you should not mingle with people from the rest of the world.
Interviewee: ours is simple. God is our guide. We don’t need pleasure in this world. All we need is to focus on God so as to achieve the ultimate price. We live simple lives, although several changes do occur as instructed by the church. It is the church that guides the community with the help of the Holy Scriptures.
Researcher: what does one need to do to be part of your group?
Interviewee: it is very unlikely for non-Amish to join the group. This is because he/she does not have the upbringing necessary to sustain the faith. Secondly, one is confirmed Amish through voluntary baptism. This ensures that only those that are ready to uphold the doctrines get baptized. On the other hand, one risks being shunned by the community for failing to get baptized.
The findings revealed that the lifestyle of the Amish community contributes to the social change. Religion plays an essential role in ensuring survival of the Amish community. Families value prosperity through hard work.
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During the interview, communication was difficult owing to very different cultural backgrounds. Though a person being interviewed could understand English, educational barrier complicated the process. The interviewee was not familiar with certain terms and theories that were necessary for the interview. A closer study revealed that the community does not believe in higher education and believes that an eighth-grade education is enough. A full education is likely to give someone an insight to the modern world, which is not desired by the community.
The interview questions had to be modified or rephrased so as to reach the level of understanding of the interviewee. During the interview, it was noted that Amish people do not consciously think or know that their culture has survived or why social changes take place. Their view is different from that of an anthropologist or sociologist. The revelations demonstrated why it was difficult to get answers related to social change and cultural survival.
From the findings, Amish families do not have much to talk about. They consider themselves people of action. They try to live following theological teachings and are not bothered discussing why things happen. That explains why the interviewee was not able to answer numerous questions regarding their lifestyle.
For an anthropologist, it is important to know why a particular culture does things the way they do in order to build an objective interpretation. It was difficult to get such information from the Amish community. They believe thinking of the self is sinful. This means that they cannot analyze their culture and establish the cause of social change. The society is much attached to discovering the will of God. Therefore, asking why social change occurs is totally unacceptable.
The Amish people believe that change is part of God’s plan. Since it is God who makes and/or decides changes, it is out of question to ask why they occur. Several questions regarding the Amish church revealed more information on the community`s view on social change. During sermons, ministers kept repeating that people should live like strangers of the world.
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The findings revealed that it is not social and economic forces that separated the Amish from the rest of the American communities, but their religious beliefs. It also reveals why Amish people lead a simplified life that is in total contrast with the secular world.
Amish people avoid relating with people from the secular world to stay away from temptations and evil acts. They believe they are pilgrims on a journey to an ultimate destination. They see no hope in the material world. The Bible is their guide and it forms the key reference that guides all aspects of their lives. Reading the Bible has made them use Biblical phrases that make them shun the material world.
Culture of Amish people is based on the belief that they are strangers and pilgrims who will one day be separated from the secular world (Aurand 4). This belief shields them from being influenced by outside cultures and it has contributed to the survival of the Amish community in America.
Changes that are witnessed in the world seem not to shake the strong religious beliefs of Amish people. Their focus is on glorifying God and not themselves. They have a cohesive Christian society that provides a sense of belonging (Aurand 8). The social forces are hard to break, and this makes Amish youth retain their culture.
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Further findings revealed that Christianity serves as a pillar in providing guidelines that spell out the Amish lifestyle. It creates norms and strong beliefs that Amish people use to identify themselves. Amish people have been able to utilize Christianity in creating strong social forces that have preserved their culture. However, the community has silently recognized that Christianity alone is not sufficient in keeping the Amish society together. Change is inevitable for the community to survive in a world full of contrasting cultures.
The possibility of conducting interview on phone reveals that the Amish culture is not static but dynamic. However, church and religion are essential in the determination of change. The changes made by the church should be consistent with Biblical teachings. Since the community allows the church to make social changes, it demonstrates that the society acknowledges the need for social change.
The Amish community integrates social change into its religious practices. An intimate religious context decides the rate at which change is to occur (Aurand, 19). However, most Amish people prefer a simple society with as little deviation from the past as possible. The main aim should be obedience to God.
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Effects of economics on social change were investigated. The interview findings revealed that the society was seeking other forms of occupation that were different from traditional farming due to growing population. These occupations include construction, dry goods and carpentry. They enabled Amish people to seek other employment possibilities. This enabled Amish people to grow their businesses.
There are groups within the Amish community that believe in prosperity and comfort as a means of economic survival. The society is slowly moving from a subsistence economy to one that works efficiently, gets profits, and enjoys leisure. This is still not the case in a number of Amish churches. Tools like mechanical equipments for farming are meant for economic reasons. However, such things as electric ovens, electric light, telephones, electric refrigerators, electric stoves, and diesel engines are meant to bring comfort in life.
The interview revealed that Amish people do not believe that they must live in poverty, even though their religious beliefs dictate they should not focus on acquisition of material things. The interviewee agrees that there is no Biblical phrase that states that one must live in abject poverty to lead a godly life.
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Amish people do not believe in vanity, neither do they believe in worldliness. However, they do feel that a hardworking and religious person should enjoy some comfort. That is why some groups within the community like the New Order Amish have accepted the use of electronics and telephones. The church, however, is scrutinizing the changes to ensure prosperity and leisure do not lead to distraction or change of focus to the material world.
The church coordinates crucial social changes, while other small changes are determined at the family level. For instance, the church requires businesses to be moderate and discreet but does not dictate which profession one is to choose, whether farming or carpentry. There are many other family aspects that the church does not control. This allows an opportunity to implement small changes in the Amish society.
The way families raise their children is outside the church’s control. Parents utilize their own interpretation of Biblical principles and past experience. This can also have an influence on future social changes. It was surprising to note that the church does not regulate how many years a child attends school. If such a child is brought up in a more progressive family, there is a likelihood of him/her joining a less conservative church. Since many nuances are regulated by families, there is variety and flexibility in the Amish lifestyle.
The Amish church does hold volunteer baptism for adults who wish to join the society. By volunteering to accept the doctrine, there is surety that the society will remain pure and its culture will be upheld. Excommunication is used as a fear tactic to prevent people from breaking the Amish doctrine. There are severe consequences associated with excommunication, including being cut off from the church and family.
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