The Cross and the Plow: Fertile Soil for a Mennonite Ethic of Food and Farming

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Until the mid–twentieth century, Mennonites were agrarians. They embraced farming as both a natural part of providing for household needs and as fertile soil for the cultivation of virtues, character, and spirituality. As many Mennonite farmers industrialized production in the latter part of the century, some continued to call for attention to key agrarian (and Anabaptist theological) values: the importance of community, the virtues of farming as a way of life, and the need to care for the land because it belongs to God. However, these ideas never gained traction in Mennonite society as a whole.

This dissertation will lay the groundwork for careful, contextualized examination of farming and food from a Mennonite perspective. Thus, it contributes to the small but growing number of works relating religion with food and agriculture. It begins with a first-order exploration of Mennonite farming practices over their half-millennium history: what were Mennonites doing and saying? It traces the history of Mennonites who emigrated from central Europe to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, and those in the Low Countries who migrated through Prussia and the Ukraine, eventually settling in Kansas in the late 1800s. This history reveals the progressive nature of Mennonite agriculture in the United States, including their inaugural use of soil-improving techniques. Next, through the use of primary source documents that have been largely ignored in academic circles, it surveys agricultural thought in popular Mennonite publications during the twentieth century. It then places this discussion in the context of US agricultural history and philosophy, outlining the differences between the agrarian philosophy that guided US agriculture until the mid-twentieth century and the industrial philosophy that gradually became dominant in the latter half of the century. Next, it engages early Anabaptist sources to show that the themes of discipleship, community, and self-sacrificing love present in twentieth-century Mennonite agricultural writings date back to the earliest days of the movement. Finally, it explores contemporary secular movements and Christian ecotheology as fruitful places for collaboration in developing a renewed Mennonite vision of food and farming.

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PHD in Theology

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Murphy, Nancey

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Mennonites, Attitudes, Land use, Agriculture


Missions and World Christianity


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