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California Mennonites

, 368 pages

30 halftones, 3 maps

January 2015



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California Mennonites

Open Access Edition Available at Project MUSE

Books about Mennonites have centered primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest, where the majority of Mennonite communities in the United States are located. But these narratives neglect the unique history of the multitude of Mennonites living on the West Coast. In California Mennonites, Brian Froese relies on archival church records to examine the Mennonite experience in the Golden State, from the nineteenth-century migrants who came in search of sunshine and fertile soil to the traditionally agrarian community that struggled with issues of urbanization, race, gender, education, and labor in the twentieth century to the evangelically oriented, partially assimilated Mennonites of today.

Froese places Mennonite experiences against a backdrop of major historical events, including World War II and Vietnam, and social issues, from labor disputes to the evolution of mental health care. California Mennonites include people who embrace a range of ideologies: many are historically rooted in the sixteenth-century Reformation ideals of the early Anabaptists (pacifism, congregationalism, discipleship); some embrace twentieth-century American evangelicalism (missions, Billy Graham); and others are committed to a type of social justice that involves forging practical ties to secular government programs while maintaining a quiet connection to religion.

Through their experiences of religious diversity, changing demographics, and war, California Mennonites have wrestled with complicated questions of what it means to be American, Mennonite, and modern. This book—the first of its kind—will appeal to historians and religious studies scholars alike.

Brian Froese is an associate professor of history at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"Brian Froese relies extensively on original source materials as he looks carefully at the diversity of Mennonite denominational experiences and adroitly evaluates the way that historic beliefs and practices were impacted by contemporary social, economic, and cultural developments on the West Coast. The first book to focus specifically on the Anabaptist experience in California—a state often associated with health spas and orange groves—California Mennonites is an important and original contribution to Mennonite studies."

"Creative and highly original, California Mennonites situates farmers and preachers, pacifists and professionals in the remarkably diverse social, economic, and racial contexts of the Golden State. As he explores how a sense of place shapes faith communities and how religious people engage their surroundings, Brian Froese deepens our understanding of Mennonites everywhere."

"The history of Mennonites in California is unusually rich—a strong Anabaptist (and pacifist) identity taking on some features of modern evangelical Protestantism, original expertise in agriculture developing into a wide range of urban and suburban vocations, a movement rooted in Swiss and German heritage broadening out to include many new ethnicities. Brian Froese’s deeply researched and clearly written study is of course a boon for Mennonites, but will also be read with real interest by students of both American religion and modern California."

"Immediate audience for this book will be those with an interest in Mennonite history, others will find it useful as a case study of the effort of a religious group to relate to a new and very different cultural environment."

"Sobering, insightful and witty... Froese's treatment of these complex religious transformations is well-balanced, even-handed and well-documented... A solid contribution to the growing understanding of the ways that faith communities engage their worlds and continue to transform."

"An insightful study of the California Mennonite story."

"Brian Froese's new history of California Mennonites tackles the vagaries of 'secular Mennonitism' with a scholarly precision not accessible to most undergraduates... California Mennonites is a welcome addition to the blossoming historiography of American Mennonite and Amish culture."

"In describing California Mennonites’ creatively navigated embrace of modernity, Froese moves them from the margins to the center of the American Mennonite experience. His book will remain the standard on the subject for years to come."

"This is an essential book for those seeking to understand the full complexities of Anabaptist history in the twentieth century. Well written, carefully structured, and impressively comprehensive in its topical coverage, the book is worthy of wide adaptation in Mennonite history courses and religious studies classes focused on sectarian engagement with modernity."

"I highly recommend this book to scholars of religion, culture, and California history, particularly those interested in how ethnic and religious groups negotiate their identities in light of secularism and modernity. I will also be recommending this book to fellow Mennonites in the pews and in the classroom. They will no doubt find that California Mennonites is a book that can serve as a source of insight as we both adapt to and resist postmodernity, and shape what it means to be a Mennonite today."

"... an important beginning for the study of Mennonites in the West."

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