Ed Janzen

The Conrad Grebel Review 19, no. 2 (Spring 2001)

Leo Driedger, Mennonites in the Global Village. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

We can trust Leo Driedger to keep our awareness of the state of Mennonite society current. This volume, together with Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (1975) and The Mennonite Mosaic (1991), establishes a significant library for the comparative analysis of Mennonite society and identity. This is a significant gift to Mennonite communities; the way into the future is marked by such self-awareness. It is a contribution to the broader study of Mennonites and may prove fruitful for the study of society in general.

Mennonites in the Global Village has two parts. The first six chapters assess changes that have occurred among Mennonites since the publication of Anabaptists Four Centuries Later, taking stock at the turn of a millennium. These chapters rehearse and work out some of the finer details of The Mennonite Mosaic, testing the data gathered there against some themes that resonate with a post-modern or global agenda. Driedger documents the continued urbanization and professionalization of Mennonites, identifying a potential tension between professional enclave and religious identity. We revisits Old Colony Mennonites in Saskatchewan, noting changes due to the influence of modern and postmodern forces. Villages identifiable earlier by their rural values and culture took on the guise of urban suburbs. He observes a shift from local to global village values, together with an increase in access to a variety of media. These changes were especially evident among younger, upwardly mobile, educated urban Mennonites. Driedger works out the politics of homemaking through a discussion of the issue of abortion, noting that Mennonites have been more opposed to abortion than has society in general and that pro-choice sympathies among Mennonites are more likely to appear among people with higher levels of education.

Driedger uses the final four chapters to lay out future trajectories of identity for contemporary Mennonites. He describes the following transitions: shifts from an ideologically to relationally based identity for young Mennonites; a dialectic between the religious and marketplace needs that educational institutions serve; an opening within churches to the possibility of leadership by women; and shifts from passive to active expression of the Anabaptist peace witness, together with minimization of the peace witness among more conservative Mennonites.

Driedger's strength, especially evident in these final chapters, is the working, re-working, and integrating of research from a variety of sources. He tests observations about Mennonite youth within the context of the significant work of Reginald Bibby and Don Posterski on Canadian youth. Paul Toews's historical work provides a backdrop for his consideration of educational institutions. Driedger's description of the emergence of the leadership of women in the Mennonite church depends on Renee Sauder's research, and J.R. Burkholder's pluralistic peace typology provides a strong basis to assess change in the Anabaptist peace witness.

Driedger depends upon the reader to process the theoretical background and the questions raised by his survey of postmodern Mennonite life. The stage is set by Driedger's schematic summary of postmodern society and a brief, global demography of Mennonites in chapter 1. Further theoretical questions might be anticipated on the basis of his historical review of the rural and urban configurations of Anabaptist communities from the sixteenth century onwards. Peter Berger's 'sacred canopy' and Robert Bellah's 'individual types' continue lo be pivotal for Driedger and are the point at which theoretical arguments might be begun. The reader, however, will have to have a background in postmodern theory and philosophy to develop these conversations more fully and to understand postmodern experience more completely. Chapter 3 illustrates this quite well. Driedger provides examples of individualism Mennonite communities and organizations which fit Bellah's typology. While he successfully convinces us that individualism exists among Mennonites, the deeper question of the nature and role of the individual within a community remains to be answered. The chapter ends as this theoretical task is engaged. This is unfortunate, because the question of the individual is a critical issue within postmodernism, and a primary and formative element within such a voluntaristic religious group as Mennonites.

This experience is replicated in the book's abrupt conclusion. Driedger suggests that the Mennonite experience of postmodernity has parallels in the pre-modem beginnings of Anabaptism, understanding both as revolutionary struggle. This observation in the book's final paragraph begs another chapter. Is the notion of "sacred canopy," useful in sociological analysis of Mennonites for so long, able to stretch far enough to cover the theoretical implications of this affinity, and is it translucent enough to explore the individual and corporate nature of community life in postmodern society? Revolutionary times may call for a revolution in our theoretical understanding. A good companion to this work would be a further development of theoretical capital. It would deepen our understanding of Mennonite life and help us grasp the contribution that the study of Mennonites makes to the understanding of society in general.