Why is the Book called a “Religious” History?

Sam Steiner

At the St. Catharines United Mennonite Church book launch, March 8, 2015. Photo courtesy Randy Klaassen.

At the time of this blog I’ve experienced three “book launch” events at which I’ve made public presentations on Ontario Mennonite history, most often “surprises” I  encountered during the research and writing of In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.

I thought it would be good for this blog to note some of the questions that have been raised at these events (and elsewhere), and respond to them in this space.

One question I’ve heard several times is: “why do you call it a ‘religious’ history”?

Book jacket for the book

“A Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario”

It’s a good question, and the answer, unfortunately, is not obvious. I was trying to signal that the approach of In Search of Promised Lands differs in significant ways from most religious/cultural histories written today. I am not a trained academic with advanced degrees in the study of history. I am an archivist who spent years among the individual trees of the Ontario Mennonite institutional, congregational and conference forest, gathering and preserving the leaves that told particular stories. I do not approach the history of Mennonites in Ontario as a social historian or as a theological or intellectual historian, though issues of boundaries between church and culture and the influence of theological movements on Mennonites inform my historical observations.

So my use of “religious” was meant to suggest that In Search of Promised Lands does not follow a social or intellectual history perspective. In addition, my many years of working within denominational structures and in the formation of the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada, caused me to be particularly fascinated by the workings of church structures (and their leaders) and the external theological influences that caused Ontario Mennonites to make vastly differing decisions about the cultural and theological directions of their church.

For these reasons my subtitle describes this work as a “religious history” of Ontario Mennonites.

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