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Anthropologists Intrigued by Hutterites' Ability to Sustain Communal Societies

Aksamit, Nichole. "Anthropologists Intrigued by Hutterites' Ability to Sustain Communal Societies." Forum, 15 November 1999, sec. A9.


The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.

As one of the oldest surviving communal societies, Hutterites have long been a source of fascination for cultural anthropologists like Tim Kloberdanz.

"What is it in their society that seems to be working and seems to be creating such a strong sense of satisfaction?" asks Kloberdanz, a North Dakota State University anthropologist who has been studying Hutterites for more than two decades.

"When I ask what is their secret to success, almost always they say they owe it to God."

Kloberdanz says Hutterites' unwavering faith and virtual isolation from society are two reasons they have been able to preserve their way of life for so long.

"In a sense, the Hutterites are a world unto themselves," he says. "They live miles from town in farming communities where religion is a vital, binding force."

In the 1970's, hundreds of young Americans formed communes for economic reasons. But in these short-lived communal societies, Kloberdanz says, freedom was emphasized over conformity and freedom was ultimately their demise.

"It sounds fine, but it doesn't always work so well when it comes down to weeding the garden and baking the bread," Kloberdanz says. "The Hutterites have generations of history and experience on their side. They've been perfecting community life for 400 years."

He says the fact that so few leave the colonies is indicative of the impact of community life.

"A lot of Hutterites talk about the colony as an ark on the ocean of humanity," he says. "Those who leave, I think they find out that life is with people. You know how you can sometimes find yourself in a big mall in a big city and be surrounded by people and never feel so alone? That's a rude awakening for Hutterites."

"It's not like that in the colony, but it can be like that in the outside world."

Reprinted with permission of The Forum

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