Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 333-34.
Royden Loewen's recent book displays all the insights and delicious ironies we have come to expect from him. In this study, Loewen compares the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites of the Rural Municipality of Hanover, Manitoba, with those of Meade, Kansas, during a time of dramatic change in rural life. Loewen begins with an analysis of what historian John L. Shover termed "the Great Disjuncture" itself, the fragmentation and scattering between the 1930s and 1980s of a once unified rural society, followed by a chapter focusing more specifically on the environment: the image of the snowdrift for Manitoba and the dust bowl for Kansas. The third chapter traces the development of a middle class in both locations. Loewen shifts his focus dramatically for the next two chapters to the radical divergence of religious sensibilities in both places. His analysis of the influence of North American evangelicalism on the Kleine Gemeinde suggests that it provided continuity with their earlier religious understanding and a bridge to being more like their non-Mennonite neighbors. For the most conservative of their number who would seek out the jungles of Belize, the evangelicalism of Canada spurred them to remember an earlier golden age in Manitoba but to reinvent conservative traditions thousands of kilometers away.
The next two chapters concentrate on gender in both locations, but use a feminine Kansas and a masculine Manitoba as the venues of analysis. Here Loewen reads his sources carefully to tell us about the changes the rural disjuncture brought to notions of gender. Finally, he turns his attention to the diaspora of the Kleine Gemeinde more specifically. One chapter seeks out the Kleine Gemeinde of Spanish Lookout, Belize, while the other observes the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites who ended up in the cities of Winnipeg and Denver.