Inside the Ark

30 January 2014

Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States
by Yossi Katz and John Lehr
Published by Canadian Plains Research Center
Review by Keith Foster
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-282-3

Ever wonder what goes on inside a Hutterite colony? Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States tells the intimate story of a people little known and even less understood.

The impact of the Hutterites is significant. Authors Yossi Katz and John Lehr point out that the 40,000 Hutterites living in 474 colonies throughout Canada and the United States form the largest communal society in the world.

The authors show the inner workings of a hardworking society, industrious as a colony of ants, toiling quietly in seclusion. One rural municipality in Manitoba, for instance, is home to three Hutterite colonies that “constitute the three largest operations in the area.” Yet according to the RM’s economic development officer, “we never hear from them, they just go about their business.”

Like a protective ark, the commune provides shelter and safety against meddling and corrupting outside influences. But the authors believe that “today, the Ark is leaking.” Technology – especially computers and the Internet – is forcing Hutterites to emerge from their isolation.

Religious beliefs are the crux of their organization, and create their greatest dilemma. Religious values may disappear with too much emphasis on economic issues, yet economic viability may suffer if too much isolation is needed to protect their faith.

Inside the Ark contains 32 colour photos depicting everyday life in the community. It also has reference notes, a bibliography, index, and five appendices. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the appendix of rules that guided the colonies over the decades.

Although the colonies have evolved as they adapted to external forces, their core values remain intact, and the authors are confident that “Hutterite colonies will remain a feature of the diverse North American social landscape well into the next century.”


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