In this paper, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension theory is used to analyze the Amish culture. The theory includes six types of dimensions including: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term versus short orientation. Knowing the different dimensions of a culture is important when interacting with other cultures that differ from your own. In order to further explain Hofstede’s theory, this paper demonstrates how the Amish culture follows his theory by displaying high power distance, collectivism, masculinity, high uncertainty avoidance, and short-term orientation through their beliefs and practices.
The Amish Culture
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension theory, is a theory that looks at unique aspects of cultures and rates them on a scale for comparison. There are six different types in the dimension: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term versus short term orientation (Samovar et al., 2015). These descriptions are useful in analyzing the beliefs and practices of different cultures and allows us to better understand a variety of groups and their actions. To further explain this theory, this paper analyzes how Hofstede’s work applies to the Amish culture and how it displays collectivism, high power distance, masculinity, high uncertainty avoidance, and short-term orientation.
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The Amish culture was founded in Europe by Jacob Amman in 1644, whom the name “Amish” was derived from. In the early 18th century, some Amish migrated to the United States where they initially settled in Pennsylvania. Eventually, they established themselves in other states such as New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio (Greksa, n.d.). Author Steven Nolt estimates that about 500 Amish had migrated to Pennsylvania during the 18th century. However, the attrition rate was so high that by the year 1800, there were fewer than 1,000 Amish in America. The group has tried to preserve the elements of the late 17th century European culture by avoiding many of the elements of modern society by practicing behaviors that isolate them from the American culture (Nolt, 2016).
The Amish separate themselves in many ways, which is highly due to the fact that they are born into and raised in the faith. Converts from outside of the Amish communities are rare. They are considered a very conservative Christian faith group, with an Anabaptist tradition (Greksa, n.d.). Many of their beliefs are identical to those of many Evangelical churches including: adult baptism done after one makes a commitment to the church, belief in the trinity, belief in life after death rewarded in heaven or punished in hell, belief in salvation through grace of God, belief that the Bible’s authors were inspired by God, and belief in living a sinless life. However, there are some Amish beliefs not shared by Evangelicals. For Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants, salvation is an unmistakable experience which happens when one trusts Jesus. Amish, on the other hand, do not believe that anyone is guaranteed salvation as a result of conversion experience, baptism, joining the church, or other acts of faith. They would consider it to be arrogant and prideful to claim certainty of salvation. Instead, the Amish believe that God carefully weighs the individual’s total lifetime record of obedience to the church and then decides whether the persons eternal destiny will be rewarded in Heaven or punished in Hell (Nolt, 2016). In addition, they are supporters of separation of church and state and believe that the church has the ultimate authority from God to interpret his will. They also do not use power from the electrical grid because they feel it would excessively connect them to the world; which may be due to previous persecution experienced by their ancestors (Greksa, n.d.). This shows how highly they value remaining separate from the rest of the world, physically and socially.
Because of these characteristics of the Amish, they are considered to be a close-knit group, making them a collective culture according to Hofstede’s theory. In a collective culture, people are loyal to the group and, in exchange, the group defends their interests and looks out for one another’s well-being (Samovar et al., 2015). The Amish would fit into this category because they are group-oriented and all values are upheld by each member in the community. Deviation from the group’s standards is grounds for removal from the Amish community, proving how important their collective viewpoints are.
The Amish also follow the high-power distance and masculine culture traits outlined by Hofstede, which both go hand-in-hand when discussing their lifestyle. In a high-power distance culture, there are more complex hierarchies (Samovar et al., 2015). Within the Amish community, the women are expected to respect the men’s choices and do not have a voice when making decisions within the church because they are not allowed to become church officials. Their family life follows a patriarchal structure where children are expected to respect their parents and other elders and women are supposed to be submissive to their husbands. Additionally, the entire community must respect the oral rule book called the Ordung which are reviewed bi-annually and enforced by the members of the church (Nolt, 2016). This also shows how they are a masculine culture, where there is a need for power, assertiveness, and dominance (Samovar et al., 2015). Like feministic cultures, the Amish avoid conflict and are not interested in social success; however, they emphasize masculinity as seen in the dominant role of men. The roles of men and women are not interchangeable as the men are expected to work and the women are expected to raise the children, to cook, and to clean (Nolt, 2016).
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In addition, the Amish follow the characteristics of a high uncertainty avoidance culture. In this type of culture, the members are conservative, the rules are rigid, the daily life is structured, and there are many societal conventions (Samovar et al., 2015). The Amish show this by straying away from conflict situations and refusing to participate in wars, which is why they decide to live such a secluded life. Even topics like domestic violence are unspoken of within the community. They also do not accept innovation because of their viewpoint that it could lead to new thoughts about religion (which could contradict their strong beliefs). They also follow strict routines such as reciting hymn’s and verses during church services in German dialect, known as Pennsylvania Dutch, which shows their unwillingness to change. Even their everyday life avoids change; such as how both men and women are required to wear dark colored clothing and appear a certain way based on their marital status (Greksa, n.d.).
Lastly, the Amish are a short-term oriented culture according to the theory. In this type of culture, members are focused on the present and do not put much thought into material success, retirement, or career success (Samovar et al., 2015). This is seen through the Amish education and their work ethic. Children attend a one room schoolhouse where they learn English, math, and other basic skills taught by a woman appointed by the community who upholds their strong religious values and is single. However, this formal education ends once they reach eighth grade where males will then begin working and women will be given further instructions within the home (Greksa, n.d.). After their school days, hands on learning is emphasized in order to teach children how to keep the home and earn a living in business or agriculture. This is due to the fact that Amish feel higher education has the potential to promote ideas that might disagree with their religious values, so seeking a college degree is unheard of by dedicated Amish. They do not see education as evil, but they view having a simple life and maintaining values more important than success. This is also seen in the jobs that they perform because they usually tend to make furniture, do construction, farm produce, keep market stands, make quilts, make buggies, and perform other jobs involving agriculture. They are also known to put on large auctions where the proceeds are typically donated to charities (Nolt, 2016). This shows how they do not prioritize long term fulfillment and are satisfied by immediate gratification in their lives. Yet, this does not mean that they are indulgent; instead, they value tradition and maintaining their social obligations in order to feel successful. They worry about living their life daily in order to fulfill the work of the Lord and believe that is distasteful to make assumptions about the future, especially regarding salvation. These views show how short-term orientation is demonstrated within the community.
By analyzing the characteristics of the Amish culture, we are able to understand the basis of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory and how it assists in explaining cultural perspectives and actions. By separating themselves from other communities in the United States and following their strict religion, the Amish are showcasing their high collectivist attitude. In the discussion of masculinity or femininity and power distance, we could see that the Amish have feministic views on conflict, but they generally follow a masculine viewpoint due to their high-power distance which give most of the power in the community to males. In addition, their high uncertainty avoidance is seen in their conservative nature, rigid rules, and structured lifestyle. Finally, they demonstrate short-term orientation by placing their values in the present instead of seeking long-term success. Each of these traits intertwine to make a unique culture that is made easier to understand using Hofstede’s analysis.
- Greksa, L. P. (n.d.). Amish. Overview of the culture. Retrieved from http://case.edu/artsci/anth/documents/Amish.pdf
- Nolt, S. M. (2016). The amish: a concise introduction. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
- Samovar, L.A., Porter, R. E., Mcdaniel, E. R., Roy, C. S., (2015). Communications between cultures 9th edition. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
- The amish: history, beliefs, practices, and conflicts. (n.d.). Religious Tolerance. Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/amish.htm
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