The condition of being “Mennonite” is not a stable condition; it is a site of contingencies, of ongoing conversation and new commitments, a realization that “Mennonites” have been experimenting with “post-Mennonite” identities.
– Paul Tiessen, “Postmodern Practice and Parody,” in Anabaptists and Postmodernity (Cascadia, 2000), 116.
On January 8th 2020 I presented a precis of my Mennonite Studies project at a scholar’s forum at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. My talk was titled “Secular Mennonite Social Critique: Pluralism, Interdisciplinarity, and Mennonite Studies” and it summarized my wider research agenda in Mennonite Studies while surveying some of my published work. The presentation is now slated to be published in a forthcoming volume of essays called Liberation and Responsibility: Anabaptism and Cultural Engagement.
In short, my approach to re-conceptualizing Mennonite Studies seeks to study Mennonite texts and figures in ways that depart from traditional theological and historical frames of reference. Rather than studying Mennonites at a distance by talking about them, and rather than seeking to preserve the tradition by speaking solely on their behalf, I attempt to think with the Mennonite critique of violence by looking at minority figures within and around the tradition.
I focus on literary, political, philosophical, and secular Mennonite thinkers.
My work on literary Mennonites focuses on the artistic portrayal of community violence in works like Patrick Friesen’s The Shunning (in Literature and Theology in 2019), and the secular-feminist-Mennonite identities of literary figures like Miriam Toews (in Hamilton Arts & Letters in 2020).
My work on Mennonite Political Theology focuses on the dialogue between politically oriented Mennonite thinkers and feminist critics (in the July 2019 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review), and in in 2021 I will edit a special issue of Political Theology on “Mennonite Political Theology” with contributions from confessional, queer, secular, and feminist Mennonite scholars. My editions of two pamphlets by politically engaged Mennonites also express the breadth of historical Mennonite engagement with political problems of racism and extremism.
I have also traced the history of philosophical Mennonites in my article on Mennonite Metaphysics (in the July 2017 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review), and more recently in an entry in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO, 2020).
My work on secular Mennonites and the distinctive approach of ‘secular Mennonite social critique’ appears in my edition of historian Robert Friedmann’s manuscript Design for Living (Wipf and Stock, 2017), in a recent update on the Anabaptist Historians blog (July 2020), as well as in my work on an early Anabaptist natural theology called “The Gospel of All Creatures” (in the 2019 issue of the Journal of Mennonite Studies).