Understanding the Amish Subculture & Cultural Norms

Instructor: David White
As an American religious subculture, the Amish are recognizably different from most other subcultures in America. Through this lesson, you will explore some areas of Amish society and gain insight into their origins and cultural significance.

Who are the Amish?

As a pluralistic nation, the United States is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and spiritual traditions including, among others, Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim. While many of these traditions share several similarities, the Amish subculture is demonstrably different from nearly every other religious subculture, which has made them a source of curiosity for outsiders.

The Amish are a religious sect in the United States that follow a Christian doctrine. With a population of nearly 300,000, they live in close-knit communities around the country and practice what is often referred to as a 'plain lifestyle' due to their modest handmade attire and seriously conservative culture.

Traditionally, the Amish earn a living through farming or woodworking, which they conduct without the aid of modern technology.

Despite their relatively small numbers, the Amish have been a part of American culture since the 18th century, when they fled persecution across Europe. Most are of Swiss/German descent and maintain close ties to their cultural heritage.

Keep in mind that, while they are often referred to as a universal group, not all Amish people practice their faith in exactly the same way. The Old Order, for example, is the most rigid group, and they adhere strictly to a simple lifestyle void of any modern conveniences. The Amish New Order, on the other hand, bear many similarities to the Old Order; however, they are less strict about things like telephones in the home or limited use of electricity around the house.

Religious Beliefs

The most important aspect of Amish life is their commitment to religious beliefs, which are rooted in the Anabaptist tradition. A movement that emerged shortly after the Christian reformation of the 16th century, Anabaptists believe that a person must wait until they reach adulthood to be baptized, when they are able to make the conscious decision to join the Christian faith.

The Amish religious teachings were born out of the belief that the church - and the larger world around them - had become corrupt in the 16th century and the only way to avoid that corruption was to live as their ancestors had and abstain from engaging with the modern world. As a result, they adhere strictly to the scripture and follow a literal translation of the Bible. Moreover, their strict adherence to Christ's teachings requires that they be pacifistic, meaning that they object to and do not participate in any kind of violence or aggressive behavior.

While it's entirely common for a person to leave one faith and join another in their lifetime, it is very rare for someone to join the Amish religion. This is largely due to two reasons: Amish do not actively recruit members, and most people would find it very difficult to live a life without modern conveniences.

When members of the Amish community reach what they consider adult age (usually around 16), they are given the choice of whether or not they want to remain in the Amish community or join the outside world. This event, known as Rumspringa, requires Amish teens to go out and experience the world before making a decision, after which they can either commit to the faith or leave the community.

Relationship with Technology

While many people have little knowledge of the Amish lifestyle, most people are aware of the fact that they do not use modern technology, such as electricity and automobiles. This abstinence is in keeping with the fundamental practice of living as their ancestors had and avoiding connection with the outside world. Instead, most Amish families continue to use candles, operate manual tools and farm equipment, and travel by horse and buggy.

The Amish avoid modern technology and prefer to lives as their ancestors lived, including traveling by horse and buggy.
horse and buggy

Despite avoiding any modern conveniences to keep out the wider world, things have changed so much that Amish people have little choice but to engage with the outsiders they rely on for economic stability and trade. While they would prefer to be left alone by outsiders, most Amish people have accepted this level of engagement as necessary, though some have relocated due to increasing numbers of tourists.

Family Life

In every circumstance, the Amish place God before anything else in their lives. However, coming in at second place is the family. Amish couples traditionally have large families with many children. Children typically attend an Amish school or homeschool until about the 8th grade level, after which they begin apprenticeships with family members or others in the community.

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