Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (vii, 323 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Louise M. Burkhart

Committee Members

Elise Andaya, Jennifer Burrell


Belonging, Gifts, Mennonite, Pastors, Women, Mennonites, Belonging (Social psychology), Marginality, Social, Sex role

Subject Categories

Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology


This dissertation demonstrates that progressive Mennonites in southern Pennsylvania struggle to find belonging within their congregations due to the fluid nature of Mennonite affiliations. Mennonites critically examined their institutions and relations with each other, and this critique often led to schism. This research addresses how a recent schism among progressive Mennonites led some people to experience nonbelonging and highlighted other conflicting values that people had within their conference. An overview of Mennonite history demonstrated that Mennonites have often formed separate fellowships when disagreements could not be resolved. However, this history also demonstrated that Mennonites have been adept at interpreting their values into new contexts and preserving Anabaptism through their different practices. Each time Mennonites interpreted themselves in new ways, individuals had to negotiate the changing conditions and figure out if they belonged or if they needed to search for a better place to fit. This project began with a 2015 schism among progressive Mennonites and its impact upon church members in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In particular, it began with female credentialed leaders who thought that their concerns were ignored in the conflict, but it quickly expanded beyond analyzing gendered divisions. Ethnographic research revealed that gender was not the only way people organized their relationships within the church. Sometimes gender was not even a concern. It became evident that there were many factors that contributed to creating a sense of belonging and that belonging was not always dependent upon the institution’s membership guidelines. Individuals were able to influence changes in the institutions, such as overturning the policies that prohibited women from being credentialed, but some Mennonites still experienced nonbelonging. Their experiences reveal that belonging was an internal sensation that emerged from the way Mennonites interpreted their interactions with other Mennonites. Understanding that belonging is an internal exchange revealed that Mennonites were able to create a sense of belonging by shifting their self-concept. This transformation occurred in conjunction with a new perspective on God and God’s interactions with individuals. Mennonite leaders and lay persons discussed how God called them to roles and encouraged them to persevere even when they faced opposition. They found support in the Bible, an important source of spiritual authority for Mennonites. As they learned to reinterpret scripture passages that had traditionally restricted women, they had a new understanding of how all people could contribute to the kingdom of God. They also became aware of the gifts they and others possessed. They were clear that God wanted people to take on roles that they enjoyed, and this understanding of God altered their perceptions of themselves. They accepted the call God had placed upon them and were more optimistic about the future of the local and global church.