Donald B. Kraybill, the nation’s best-known writer on Amish and Mennonite culture, will be the principal author of a fresh history of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Its publication will coincide with EMU’s centennial celebrations in the fall of 2017.
“We couldn’t imagine a better person to undertake this project,” said Provost Fred Kniss, PhD, in announcing the appointment. “Don brings a unique perspective as an EMU graduate, sociologist, theological and cultural interpreter, and prolific writer of widely read scholarly books.”
A 1967 graduate from EMU, Kraybill holds a doctorate in sociology from Temple University. He served on the EMU Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1995, and chaired it from 1989 to 1995.
Of the two dozen books he wrote, coauthored or edited, “The Upside-Down Kingdom” is one of his most widely read. It won the National Religious Book Award in 1979. With nearly 100,000 copies in print, now in its third edition, it has been translated into Arabic and five other languages.
Kraybill anticipates beginning the intensive research required for the centennial project. “I have many projects I’d like to pursue at this next stage of my life,” he confesses. “This one captures my interest because it offers a unique opportunity to investigate a case study of the transformation of Mennonite/Anabaptist identity in the twentieth century.”
In a 2008 interview, when Kraybill was honored as EMU Alumnus of the Year, he noted he is happiest doing research and writing quietly at his desk at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
Kraybill anticipates telling the EMU story while exploring such key questions, including: What was distinctive about Mennonite/Anabaptist identity at EMU? How did those understandings evolve over the past century? How and why did EMU remain Christian and Mennonite?
Kraybill plans to trace several “transformations,” as he calls them, across the institution’s history. These include the movement from passive nonresistance to activist peacemaking; and from the institution’s early goal of safeguarding youth from the world to preparing them to engage it.
He anticipates that the resulting book will speak to Mennonite and EMU-related audiences as well as to those unfamiliar with Mennonites or the university. Content from the book may be part of a special website yet to be developed to help celebrate the centennial marking the start of the school in 1917 with celebrations in the 2017-18 academic year.
Kraybill, distinguished college professor at Elizabethtown College and senior fellow in its Young Center, is regularly quoted in national and international media outlets on news related to Anabaptist groups. During the 2006 Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, Pa., he interpreted Amish culture to a worldwide audience.
He was the primary consultant for a two-hour PBS film, “The Amish” that aired in February. His most recent book is “Concise Encyclopedia of Amish Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites.” A 1967 Bible and sociology major at EMU, he edits a series of books on Anabaptist topics published by the Johns Hopkins Press.