Outside the World
Cohesion & Deviation among Old
Colony Mennonites in Boliva

Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anhropology, No. 42

By Anna Sofia Hedberg
November 2007
Uppsala University
Distributed by Coronet Books Inc.
ISBN: 9789155469993
273 pages, Illustrated, 5 3/8 x 8 1/2"
$65.00 Paper Original

This study is about community maintenance and social cohesion among Old Colony Mennonites in Bolivia. The Old Colony Mennonites constitute a Christian minority that traces its origin to the European Anabaptist movement of the 16th century. To reach collective salvation they insist on preserving the Old Colony way of life and remaining separate from the “world”.

Considering their unconventional lifestyle which implies rejection of modernity and adherence to the Ordnung, and which has caused a long tradition of migration, the Old Colony Mennonites’ ability to maintain commu-nity in the 21st century inevitably draws attention to the classical inquiry into the prac-tices and forces that make human societies cohere. Based on anthropological fieldwork, this study examines the Old Colony way of life departing from deviation and confor-mity in practice and thought, primarily from and at the margins of the community.

Such a methodological perspective makes it possible to observe behaviour and modes of thinking that are difficult to detect in the Old Colony community, which is charac-terised by strong social control and demands on the individual to conform. Approach-ing community from a perspective of social practice, the study sheds light on different modalities of social cohesion, e.g., the emergence of social cohesion, the way it is re-produced and expressed and how it fortifies community. Several themes are discussed such as the construction and maintenance of community boundaries, religious influ-ence on conformity and deviation, the discrepancy between ethics and practice, and disobedience as a way of confirming rules.

This work puts forth the idea that the col-lective dimension of the Old Colonists’ spiritual quest, i.e., to collectively attain salva-tion in the heavenly kingdom, reinforces the boundary between the Old Colony com-munity and the world. By examining their interaction with the outside world, this study also shows that the Old Colony Mennonites in Durango express and verify their principle of non-conformity to the “world” by accentuating boundaries and articulat-ing a relationship, rather than by striving for a non-relation.


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