Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites: 5-book giveaway and interview with Donald Kraybill

Donald Kraybill just had a busy month.

Most people would consider releasing one book an event, but in October Kraybill released two–The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, co-authored with Steven Nolt and David Weaver-Zercher, and the Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

donald kraybill
Writing an encyclopedia requires staying in shape.  The author works out between entries by lifting stacks of his other books

Timing of the release was something of a coincidence; while The Amish Way was a more recent project, the Concise Encyclopedia had been in the works for a decade.

Today, Kraybill shares about the Concise Encyclopedia and the many diverse Anabaptist groups in North America.

Browsing through the Concise Encyclopedia, I’ve learned that there are Brethren in Cuba, how Amish quilts came to be considered art, and more about the people known as Bruderhof, a group once connected with the Hutterites.

Concise Encyclopedia 5-book giveaway: How to Win a Copy

Johns Hopkins has kindly shared 5 copies of the Concise Encyclopedia for a giveaway contest for Amish America readers.  There are a few ways to enter this contest:

kraybill concise encyclopedia

1) leave a comment on this post.  That gets you 1 entry!

2) mention this contest on Facebook and/or your blog.

A Facebook mention gets you an extra 2 entries, and a blog mention gets you 3 (be sure to let me know you did either or both of these, by sending a quick email to

So that makes a total of 6 possible entries (1 for a comment+2 for Facebook+3 for blog).

The 5 winners will be drawn and shared on this blog in one week–on next Monday, November 22nd.

Interview with Donald Kraybill on the Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites

Amish America: Why did you compile such a book?

Donald Kraybill: I felt there was a need for a single book that would provide an overall short and concise introduction to all the Anabaptist groups in North America. Many people don’t realize how many different groups there are, how diverse they are and where they are located. So my purpose was to provide a single one-stop source for journalists, students, scholars, and others interested in learning about the Anabaptist North America.

How did you decide which groups to include?

Kraybill: Well there are four major Anabaptist tribes: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. So that was a pretty easy choice. However inside those tribes there are many subgroups and the decision of who to include or exclude sometimes was difficult. In general I used four criteria: if the group used a tribal name, i.e. Amish in the name of their group; if in their literature the group described itself as “Anabaptist”; if the group was listed in a directory of Anabaptist Churches; and if the group identified itself with a network or fellowship of Anabaptist related churches.

Why did you write all the entries yourself?

Kraybill: It’s true that the essays in many encyclopedias have contributions by individual specialists. This volume is a bit unique because it tries to be very concise. I tried to write short overview essays. By writing them myself I could keep the style, content, and tone more uniform. In some ways doing it this way complicated the process because I had to master so much information. On the other hand, it made it easier because I didn’t have to work with dozens of other people!

How many groups are covered in the book?

Kraybill: Actually a total of 205. We created a directory of groups at the back of the book which lists all of them and their location by affiliation and country in North America.

And how many Anabaptists are there in North America?

Kraybill: Well, we identified 8,711 congregations and 809,845 baptized adult members. It was impossible to make reasonable estimates of population (adults and children) because most of the groups report the number of baptized members not total population. If I were to guess I would estimate that the total population of Anabaptist groups in North America is 1.4 million.

Which of the four major groups is the largest, and which is the smallest?

Kraybill: Counting adult members only, the Mennonites constitute 63% of the Anabaptist world. The Hutterites are the smallest with about 2.4%. The Amish community are 12.8% of the North American Anabaptist world.

What are the boundaries of North America?

Kraybill: Well that’s an interesting question because when I began I naïvely assumed that North America meant the United States and Canada. I soon discovered that North America also includes the Caribbean territories and countries, Central America, and Mexico. It’s actually a total of 23 countries! Not just two like I thought originally. Anabaptist groups are found in 17 of the 23 countries.

How many of these countries have Amish churches?

Kraybill: The Amish are only found in United States and Canada. To be exact in 28 states and in Ontario.

In many of the essays you make a distinction between traditional and assimilated Anabaptist groups. What does that mean?

Kraybill: Well, members of some groups are very traditional, such as the Old Colony Mennonites and Old Order Amish. But other groups are very change minded and very active in mainstream society, whether it’s Mexico or Canada or the United States. Members of these churches engage in political affairs, attend public universities and are involved in professions and use high technology. So I was searching for a way to make a distinction between these two broad categories. It is better to think of a spectrum or a continuum from a tradition-oriented way of life to a change/progressive mindset.

So what are the key aspects of that continuum?

Kraybill: The two key components are these: how separated the group tries to be from the larger culture and whether moral authority is invested in the group or given to the individual. In short: it’s about separatism and individualism. I see dress as the key indicator of where a group stands on the continuum. Churches which require a prescribed dress for their members are toward the traditional whole because dress signals a more separatist boundary with the larger culture, and secondly individuals are willing to give up their right to dress as they please and to follow the moral guidelines of the church.

You mentioned Old Colony Mennonites. Where do they live and how are they different from the Old Order Amish?

Kraybill: Well, read the Encyclopedia! No, actually the Old Colony Mennonites have a Dutch Russian ethnic background. They migrated from Russia to Canada in the late 19th century and then in the early 20th century from Canada to Mexico. In recent years some of them have moved back to Canada and to some areas of the United States. Historically they have been extremely traditional, even more so than the old order Amish.

Today some of the Old Colony Mennonites are still very tradition-oriented but others are in various stages of assimilation into the larger culture. The Amish by contrast come from South German Swiss background. One of the interesting things is that some Amish groups in the United States have sent school teachers to Mexico to train and work with teachers and help upgrade the quality of education in Old Colony Mennonite schools.

How did you decide which topics to include?

Kraybill: Well that was actually quite difficult. I decided to focus pretty much on cultural topics in the 20th century but those of course overlap with historical and religious ones. Thus the Concise Encyclopedia has more of a socio-cultural feel rather than a historical one. I decided to only write an essay on people who were a founder of a particular church in its first 50 years. Otherwise, although I mentioned people in the various essays, there are not essays on any contemporary people. I also tried to think of topics which people outside Anabaptist circles—journalists, scholars, students and so on might want information on.

What are examples of some of the essays?

Kraybill: If we take an ABC approach the list would include some of these: abortion, agriculture, alcohol, Asian-American Anabaptists, automobile, baptism, beard, Central America, cinema, cookbooks, dancing, and yes the holy kiss!

Which essays did you find most interesting and/or surprising?

Kraybill: I must confess the biggest surprise I discovered was that there are Mennonites in the Bahamas! They are purportedly doing mission work, but I haven’t done any field work there to determine the accuracy of their claims! I think another surprise for me was the entry on dialects. We discovered that there are some 256,000 Pennsylvania German dialect speakers in North America. This includes adults and children but it adds up to a quarter million people speaking this unique dialect at their breakfast tables every morning.

Donald Kraybill is Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

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    1. Kathy Rowe

      The encyclopedia sounds like a very interesting and informative book. Would love to win a copy of it. Always enjoy each article you have on this website, Erik. Keep up the good work!

    2. Karen Pollard

      I’ve long been fascinated with the Amish/Mennonite culture. Since learning to quilt almost two years ago, I’ve become even more fascinated with the craftsmanship of the Amish peoples.

      I would love to win this volume of impressive works.
      Thank you for the opportunity.


      The book sounds very interesting! We live in Holmes County OH, the largest Amish community in the world. We visited with the Hutterites at several of their compounds in South Dakota and very much enjoyed their hospitality. We’d like to learn more of other settlements.
      Thanks for the giveaway!

    4. ann

      The encyclopedia does sound fascinating! Ditto the thanks for the giveaway!

    5. Robin Grossbier

      So excited to see this book…I read so many Amish/Mennonite books. I would love to have this book to know the facts about the life of Amish/Mennonite and I have a friend whose family is Hutterites…would be thrilled to read that section also!

      God Bless!

    6. Ruben

      Hey Eric!

      Great interview, would love to win a copy of this encyclopedia. Check your email for my 6 entry superscore (ex bonus???)

      Keep up the good job, this blog keeps getting better and better.

    7. Suzanne Racer

      sounds like a great book. would love to have a copy.

    8. Denise Flynn

      I come from a Mennonite background. My maternal family have always lived in York, PA. I read every Amish book I can find. I’d love to own these books that you are giving away. Thanks!

    9. Marilyn

      I too would value a copy of Dr Kraybill’s books….Please add my name to the drawing!

    10. Count me in! I learned a lot just from this Q & A. Sounds like a great book ~ I like that the info is all in one place and he did it all himself!

    11. Matthew

      Hello Erik,

      Please enter me in the giveaway! Thank you.


    12. Loretta Shumpert

      Enjoy Mr. Kraybills books.

    13. Robert Gschwind

      I have enjoyed his books for many years and have used them in research and study. Both of these books will no doubt, be very well received.

    14. Alice Aber

      This is a very interesting interview and I would dearly love to win the book. I will be posting this to my facebook page as well. This looks like a lot of good information. Thanks Erik, well done as usual!!

    15. Linda Harvey Kelley

      I am thrilled to see both of these books and look forward to reading them. I have had close friends among the Amish and Mennonites for 25 years now, both in Pennsylvania and Michigan. And I have a few Brethren friends. All of them have enriched my life, and I love them dearly.

    16. Clara

      wow…those sure do sound interesting!! would love to have a copy of each book 🙂

    17. Gary Sloan

      I so enjoy reading about the amish and anabaptist groups. Please include me in the drawing for the Encyclopedia.

    18. Nadege Armour

      Please please count me in – thanks.

    19. Holly Graves

      Please enter me in the drawing–I would love a copy of this book to add to my collection! Thanks for a wonderful website, Erik! I enjoy your emails and the information you have made available.

    20. CDS

      Sounds like a very special book that I’d love to own. Please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks

    21. Liz

      I wanna win a copy of the book!

    22. Heesa Phadie

      Awesome. This would be a great Christmas present to receive.

    23. Theresa

      Enter me in the contest. Thank you.

    24. A. E. Beckham

      I look forward to reading this book!

    25. Patsy

      Would love to win this! I love to read anything Amish! It’s my favorite reading. Thanks for the giveaway.

    26. Free book? Sure, put my name in? 🙂 Mike Atnip

    27. Marilyn

      The new book sounds very interesting and I would love to be entered for the drawning especially seeing the day that you draw is the day after my birthday. Maybe my birthday will bring me luck. LOL

    28. Kristie Donelson

      The encyclopedia sounds very thorough. Impressive body of knowledge. I find the Amish fascinating. I hope I win. Thank you. kristiedonelson(at)gmail(dot)com

    29. Leanna Morris

      I’d love to win the encyclopedia and learn the differences in their religious beliefs.

    30. Leanna Morris

      mentioned contest on my fb wall

    31. Leanna Morris

      2) mentioned contest on my fb wall

    32. zoey

      Erik, Thank you for offering this great giveaway! I would love to win this book. Mr.Kraybill what a wonderful book, one that explains all the groups. Several of my questions now will be answered!!

    33. Carol Wong

      I would really love to have this book. I am very interested in Amish quilts, the Hutterites and everything!!!!

      I sent an e-mail about posting on Facebook. Is it possible that we could get points in future contest for posting on Twitter also? I am blogless!


    34. Ryan Lewis

      Please put me in for this drawing. I read everything I can get my hands on that Dr. Kraybill writes. Would love to add it to my library of Anabaptist studies.

    35. lanore

      As of yet I have never read anything from D. Kraybill….would love to start as he soounds like a great Author. Please eb ter me in the concest. Love to read anything about the Amish ppl. The you for the chance to win one of his books. Amish America has many good writing on the Amish.

    36. Brenda Simmons

      I surely would love to win this book. I am very interested in the Amish being born and raised in the area.

      Thank you—Brenda

    37. Dena Casey

      I would love to win one of these books. If I don’t I will be purchasing it! LOL

    38. Thanks for pointing to this, Erik! I’m reading Kraybill’s Amish Way now, so this looks great as well! Please enter me in your drawing. Thanks for doing this!

    39. Eugenia McQueen

      Fascinating! I seem to be immersing myself in much of the information concerning the Anabaptists, their cultural and spiritual beliefes, and how they live it out in the world. I am currently reading and learning from The Amish Way and would LOVE to have one of these books, as well!

    40. Donna Young

      This sounds so interesting, I love reading about these people. I have posted this on my facebook page.

    41. Gail Dawson

      This book is a much-needed addition to the literature. Please consider my entry for the drawing.

    42. richard

      always the most responses when giving away a book,lol. i comment on here because i enjoy it, and because i enjoy coming to this site. to prove that ill pass on winning the book……….

    43. Mark FitzGerald

      What a great resource. I wish this book had been around in the’90’s when I was teaching at Faith Mennonite High School in Lancaster. Having Mennonites, Beachy Amish, and Church of the Brethren students together – this would have been valuable to them to help them “sort each other out”!

    44. Alice Aber

      Richard, I post on here frequently too. And I too, enjoy the blog and all the interesting information,,,, but I would still love to win the book. 😀

    45. Monica

      Wow, he didn’t know about the Menno’s in the Bahamas? I could have told him they were there. And they ARE doing mission work- there’s a church! Oh yes, and enter me in the drawing please. 🙂

    46. Sheri Stark

      I would love to have a copy of the encyclopedia! Thanks for your educational blog and articles! I appreciate them!

    47. Glenda

      Sounds like a fascinating book…
      I realy enjoy reading the article.
      Would be nice to win it.

    48. Linda Bolt

      I would love to win a copy of the encyclopedia–please enter me in the contest! Thanks!

    49. Cleone

      i would so love 2 win this book -please enter me in the contest…. Thanks