Mennonites in the Global Village.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000, 264 pp. $Cdn 24.95 paper (0802041817), $Cdn 65.00 (0802080448) cloth.
Leo Driedger is well known for his contributions to Canadian sociology, to the study of ethnicity, and to the sociology of Mennonite and other Anabaptist religious groups. His latest book, Mennonites in the Global Village, gathers together several strands of his prolific output regarding the relatively rapid cultural assimilation of North American Mennonites over the last several decades. The books focus on Mennonites in particular (especially on modernizing Mennonites, who are rather less interesting than their Old Order cousins) may make the book seem of more limited interest than it actually is. Driedger begins with more general considerations of sociocultural change and globalization, and progressively narrows his focus to discussions of media, homemaking and career, youth, education, women in leadership, and peacemaking.
The book displays significant strengths in terms of its accessibility. Especially interesting for a general readership, for example, are some of Driedgers explorations of individualism and community, drawing from the authors of Habits of the Heart . His adaptation of the general perspective of Habits may be vulnerable to various criticisms that have been leveled at the latter work, but Driedgers discussion does help to focus some of the issues surrounding tensions between traditional Mennonite community emphases and the pervasive influence of individualism in North America. As one would expect from his title, Driedger also draws from Marshall McLuhan (and his mentor, Harold Innis). This may also increase the books appeal, as there seems to be a bit of a revival of interest in McLuhan in the last few years.
The clearest shortcoming of the book lies in its failure to deliver fully on the promise of theoretical unity announced by the title and introduction. The book opens with the tantalizing question, what happens when a traditional religious group hits the wall of electronic information? Indeed, there is much in the book that interestingly and helpfully bears upon this question, but the book generally feels, to this reader, more like a collection of essays than a monograph. It is sometimes unclear to what extent the question remains central, and to what extent the book is simply a survey of the sociology of contemporary Mennonites. The reader hoping for a synthesis that is especially novel will probably be somewhat disappointed.
This does not mean, however, that the book is not well worth reading. As a general sociological reflection on Mennonite cultural assimilation, based on extensive empirical research, it is quite strong. Quantitative data are deployed throughout, generally to very positive effect. Those familiar with Driedgers work will recognize his penchant for mild theoretical hyperbole (as in the characteristic phrasing of the above hitting the wall question), but they will also know that such minor stylistic annoyances rarely get in the way of genuine insight. Students of contemporary Mennonite culture will be well rewarded by attention to Driedgers discussions, as welcome contributions to a burgeoning conversation regarding contemporary Mennonite identity. Sociologists of religion in general will find numerous rich points of contact for comparison with other sectarian or denominational traditions.
Peter C. Blum