American Experience: The Amish
Airs Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV
Originally published February 27, 2012 at 10:18 a.m., updated January 27, 2014 at 2:09 p.m.
Top Ten FAQ
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE asked internationally renowned scholar Donald B. Kraybill to answer our top ten questions about the Amish.
The Amish Today - These images, taken in Lancaster, Pa. between 2004 and 2010, show contemporary Amish men, women and children.
The Amish and Photography - The images in this gallery were all taken between 1875 and 1942.
"The Amish" answers many questions Americans have about this insistently insular religious community, whose intense faith and adherence to 300-year-old traditions have by turns captivated and repelled, awed and irritated, inspired and confused for more than a century. With unprecedented access, built on patience and hard-won trust, the film is the first to penetrate deeply and explore this attention-averse group.
In doing so, "The Amish" paints an intimate portrait of contemporary Amish faith and life. It questions why and how the Amish, an insistently closed and communal culture, have thrived within one of the most open, individualistic societies on earth; explores how, despite their ingrained submissiveness, the Amish have successfully asserted themselves in resisting the encroachments of modern society and government; asks what Americans’ attraction to the Amish says about deep American values; and looks at what the future holds for a community whose existence is so rooted in the past.
An offshoot of Anabaptist Christians, the Amish Church began more than 300 years ago in Europe. Anabaptists believed that one should join the church out of free will and be baptized -- not as an infant -- but as an adult. Adult baptism, however, was a capital offense at the time and thousands died as martyrs.
"That has really stayed in the DNA of Amish culture and Amish history," says Donald B. Kraybill, author of "The Riddle of Amish Culture" and other books on the Amish. "It's not unlike slavery for African Americans. It's not unlike the Holocaust for Jews. So there's this sense of being a separated people, of being a minority people, of being cautious about what the outside world might do to you again."