Institute for the Study of
Global Anabaptism

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In recent decades, the most dramatic growth in the Anabaptist-Mennonite family of faith — as in the Christian church more generally — has occurred in countries outside of Europe and North America. Today there are some 1.7 million Anabaptist-Mennonites in the world, representing 227 groups in 83 countries. From the perspective of five centuries of Anabaptist history, this is a phenomenal development that is transforming the character and future of the tradition. Mennonites in North America are vaguely aware of this transformation, but we have not been clear about the details of what is unfolding or about its larger significance and meaning.

Building on a rich tradition of Anabaptist-Mennonite studies, the unique resources of the Mennonite Historical Library and the Mennonite Church USA Archives, and the gifts of Goshen College faculty, the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (ISGA) will help to nurture a new generation of scholarship and fraternal exchange explicitly oriented to the global Anabaptist church. The institute will serve as a visible and vibrant point of intersection between Goshen College students, Mennonite Church USA, the worldwide Anabaptist communion and the rapidly expanding global Christian church. 

Key activities

The Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism will:

  1. Foster scholarship on the changing demographics of the worldwide Anabaptist communion and the implications for doctrine, ethics, organizational forms, worship life, spiritual practices and mission within these new and changing contexts.
  2. Acquaint the Goshen College community — and the broader Mennonite church — with Anabaptism as a movement, both historically and currently, which is producing ideas and communal practices that are relevant to the issues addressed on our campus, our communities and our congregations.
  3. Enrich the curricular and co-curricular programming of Anabaptist-Mennonite studies by involving students, research fellows and visiting scholars in the research projects sponsored by the institute.
  4. Develop and contribute to networks of international scholars who will share their research methods, topics and findings regarding the historical and contemporary evolution of world Anabaptism.
  5. Work collaboratively with AMBS, local church agencies, MCUSA, other Mennonite study centers and Mennonite World Conference in establishing research priorities and conference themes.
  6. Offer representatives from the rapidly growing global church a forum for sharing their insights and convictions, and for discussing attitudes and issues that have sometimes divided Christians in different societies.

Staff members and facilities

The ISGA builds on the comprehensive collection of Anabaptist/Mennonite sources found in the Mennonite Historical Library — now in its 105th year at Goshen College — as well as the long tradition of scholarship at Goshen College that includes The Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Initially, Professor of History John D. Roth will be the only staff member of the ISGA, in his capacity as director of the Mennonite Historical Library. Other MHL staff members will support the work of the institute as additional material is added to the collection, in their support of our digitizing efforts, and in the development of the Global Anabaptist Wiki project.

Current and planned research

  1. Extend the mission of the Mennonite Historical Library.
    • Global Anabaptist Wiki (www.anabaptistwiki.org) creates a setting where individual groups around the world can tell their stories, post archival information, and access information about other groups.
  2. Facilitate theological conversation
    • International conference on “The Suffering Church” (Fall, 2012)
    • Long-range planning toward collection material for the next volume of the Martyrs Mirror
  3. Carry out basic research on demographics/faith/beliefs in the global church
    • Multi-Nation Anabaptist Profile II (2012-2013): a large-scale survey of the demographic realities, attitudes, beliefs and practices of a randomized sampling of 30 groups who are members of the Mennonite World Conference
    • Complete book project on free church/global ecclesiology
  4. Initiate a Global Anabaptist History publication series
  5. Promote a deeper sense of global fraternity among historical groups, Anabaptist study centers and Anabaptist Networks
    • Tour of Anabaptist Study Centers, historical societies, and historically-minded individuals around the world (sabbatical 2012-2013) to learn what others are doing, promote vision of the ISGA, seek areas of collaboration, nurture settings for mutual encouragement

Current and planned programs:

  1. Conference/thematic focus: Regular conferences, perhaps on a two-year cycle, that would focus on a particular theme or region. An initial conference might invite international guests to share insights from their context around a given topic; a follow-up conference would focus on local application of what we have learned. The institute could partner with Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary to sponsor regular lectures, discussion groups, and seminars.
  2. International partnerships with Anabaptist study centers: During the past 10-15 years, Anabaptist study centers have emerged in London, Korea, Guatemala, Paraguay, France, Germany (Aussiedler groups) and India. The Mennonite Quarterly Review, published at Goshen College, has actively supported these centers by providing print materials, and will soon provide digital resources. But we could pursue more intentional joint projects (e.g., Church Member Profile for the global Mennonite church; projects on behalf of Mennonite World Conference; study of martyrdom in international perspective, etc.).
  3. Visiting scholar/church leader:  endowment money would ensure that a scholar/church leader from the region of focus could spend a block of time at the institute, drawing on local resources for a specific project; engaging in conversation with GC faculty; teaching or participating in classes at GC/AMBS; hosting a seminar for pastors; giving public presentations at Goshen College and local churches.
  4. Student scholarships/internships:  Goshen College students from the focus country/region will be invited to work in MHL collections to gain experience in library/archival procedures and to do particular study on their own. GC students will find the institute to be a valuable resource for information and contacts for service/mission opportunities abroad.
  5. Broaden scope of MHL collection: Over the years our comprehensive collecting efforts have been most successful for material published in Europe and North America. Contacts established through the Institute would help the MHL better identify and keep up with the growing number of publications from the global Mennonite church.
  6. Sharing expertise with others: MHL could make staff resources available to global Mennonite communities for consultation and collaboration in collection development, organization of holdings, preservation, historical interpretation, etc.
  7. Hosting of church partners: The Institute could serve as host to regional meetings of Mennonite World Conference or it could partner with Mennonite Mission Network, AMBS and MCUSA to host consultations on topics related to mission, evangelism, discipleship and service.

Explanation of the institute’s “Transformation from Theory to Action” statement

“Intersection of higher education and the global church”

According to our vision statement, Goshen College “will be recognized as an influential leader in liberal arts education focusing on international, intercultural, interdisciplinary, and integrative teaching and learning …” The Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism will help the college live out that vision. The institute reminds us that our identity as Christians, as Anabaptist-Mennonites, or simply as human beings is always shaped in relationship with those beyond the borders of nation or ethnicity. Its programs will help the college and its constituents better understand the dramatic global transformation currently underway in the Anabaptist-Mennonite church. The research supported by the Institute will be interdisciplinary, drawing on the insights of theologians, historians, demographers, sociologists and missiologists. And every initiative that it pursues will promote an integrative approach to teaching and learning that brings together students and faculty, college and church, Anabaptism and the broader Christian tradition, and North American Mennonites and the global church.

Role of undergraduate/graduate students

Each year, the institute will identify a Goshen College international student who is associated with a Mennonite church to serve as a student intern or research assistant. The institute also will identify research projects for the Maple Scholars program and develop May Term Anabaptist-Mennonite History courses and locations in the global church (e.g., Paraguay).

  1. International student internship project: Each year identify a Goshen College international student who is associated with a Mennonite church to serve as a student intern or assistant. Projects could include:
    • Inventory current resources in MHL and Archives relevant to the history of their church
    • Digitize this source material as appropriate
    • Post material on the Global Anabaptist Wiki site
    • Encourage/promote others in their setting to contribute as well
  2. Identify research projects for the Maple Scholars program
  3. May Term Anabaptist-Mennonite History courses and locations in the global church (e.g. Paraguay)

Why the institute matters

At the heart of church-related higher education is a conviction that the activities of teaching, learning and scholarship not only sustain the Christian faith for the coming generation, but also help to interpret that faith in the midst of a constantly changing context and to renew the faith by asking new questions that led to new understandings. The ISGA will serve as a bridge between the received tradition and the larger global transformation that is unfolding within the Anabaptist-Mennonite church and the Christian faith in general. Anchored firmly in the resources of the MHL and the long tradition of academic scholarship at Goshen College, the institute will help students, faculty, church agencies and North American Mennonites better understand the nature of the global church, encourage vocations of partnership and service, promote renewal within the North American Mennonite church, forge deeper relations with other Christian groups, and nurture a closer sense of fellowship among Anabaptist-Mennonites around the world.

Contact Info

If you have questions about the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, contact Dr. John D. Roth. To subscribe to our newsletter, click here.

John
Office: Wyse 301
Phone: (574) 535-7433
E-mail: johndr@goshen.edu