A Critical Appraisal of Amish Studies’ De Facto Paradigm, “Negotiating with Modernity”

Cory Anderson, Joseph Donnermeyer, Jeffrey Longhofer, Steven D. Reschly

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The predominant paradigm for Amish research over the past three decades has been “negotiating with modernity” (NWM). NWM explains how the Amish as a distinctive American culture and religion have overcome the threats modernity poses to their existence. This article argues that NWM has been accepted and replicated uncritically and without empirical testing due to properties making it inherently untestable. We first synthesize the central NWM literature, as the paradigm has never been fully constructed in one place. We then call attention to two sets of impairments that prevent empirical tests. First, the perspective contains several logical fallacies and terminology problems. NWM reifies “the Amish” as its unit of analysis; creates circular variable relationships (the Amish are Amish because they are not something else); employs terms problematically, notably “modernity” and “modernization”; dichotomizes phenomena; and is grounded in no particular theoretical tradition. Second, we argue that the production of knowledge within core NWM literature has not been sufficiently substantiated. Data collection procedures and methodological strategies are unclear or undefined and scientific peer review is relatively low. We conclude by suggesting more promising theoretical directions for Amish studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-742
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


  • Amish
  • Donald Kraybill
  • Elizabethtown College
  • cultural materialism
  • dichotomy
  • falsifiable
  • modern
  • technology


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