Mennonite Studies (Project)


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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.

Unlike my book projects on postsecular history, ontologies of violence, and critiques of conspiracism, the Mennonite Studies research project outlined below has a more diffuse character. The pacifist tradition of the Mennonites and the history of sixteenth century Anabaptist groups informs my other projects in several ways, the most important of which is the influence of the unique critique of violence advanced by both theological and secular representatives of the tradition. My other writings on the politics of time, the concept of violence, and conspiratorial thinking are each motivated by a critique of violence that challenges categorical distinctions between religion and secularity, and resists both epistemological and corporeal forms of violence – each of which are uniquely conceptualized in recent philosophical approaches to Mennonite pacifism.


Project Outline

On January 8th 2020 I presented a précis of this project at a scholar’s forum at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. My lecture was titled “Secular Mennonite Social Critique: Pluralism, Interdisciplinarity, and Mennonite Studies” and it summarized my wider research agenda in this area. This programmatic piece now appears in an essay collection called Anabaptist Remix (Basel: Peter Lang, 2022).

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In short, my approach to reconceptualizing Mennonite Studies focuses on interpretations of Mennonite texts and figures 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 from within it, I attempt to think with and against Mennonite critiques of violence by reading minority figures in and around the tradition.


Anabaptists and Philosophy Roundtable Lecture

I am also involved in organizing the Anabaptists and Philosophy roundtable lecture series, and on April 27th 2022 I gave the second lecture in the series titled “Anabaptism contra Philosophy,” which was followed by a response from Dr. Christian Early of James Madison University.


In general, I focus on literary, political, philosophical, and secular Mennonite thinkers from a pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective outlined below.


Literary Mennonites

41dU-rfvhtL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ My work on Mennonite literature focuses on the artistic and poetic 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).

 


Political Mennonites

muslim-christian-dialogue-at-cgucMy work on Mennonite Political Theology (published in the July 2019 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review) focuses on politically engaged Mennonite thinkers and their dialogues with feminist theologians, and also includes my editions of two pamphlets – published on the Anabaptist Historians site – that express the breadth of historical Mennonite engagement with political problems from racism to extremism. 


Philosophical Mennonites

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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 updated entry for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (April 2020). 

 


Secular Mennonites

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My work on secular Mennonite identity and its unique forms of social critique includes: my introduction to historian Robert Friedmann’s manuscript Design for Living (Wipf and Stock, 2017), an update published with Anabaptist Historians (July 2020), and and essay on an early Anabaptist form of natural theology called “The Gospel of All Creatures” (in the 2019 issue of the Journal of Mennonite Studies).


Interdisciplinary Approaches to Mennonite Studies

In May 2021 my guest-edited special issue of Political Theology on “Mennonite Political Theology” published contributions from confessional, queer, secular, and feminist Mennonite scholars. My introduction is titled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Mennonite Political Theology,” and the exciting contributions include Susanna Guenther Loewen’s essay “The Personal is Political: The Politics of Liberation in Mennonite-Feminist Theologies,” Daniel Shank Cruz’s study, “Mennonite Speculative Fiction as Political Theology,” Russell Johnson’s intervention, “Building Peace in a Culture War: Christian Witness in a Polarized Society,” and a translation of an intriguing funeral sermon by Hans Harder, “Between Bourgeois Existence and Violence,” (1979).


I have also argued for an interdisciplinary approach to Mennonite ethics and technology in a recent article in the Conrad Grebel Review, titled “Violent Inclinations,” which explores posthumanism, posture, and the politics of the body.