Diaspora Hermeneutics: Mennonite Refugee Narratives between the World Wars

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


‘Diaspora hermeneutics’ is part of a larger work that follows two groups of German-speaking Mennonites who inhabited Russia until the 1870s, fled separately to Canada and Germany, and were reunited in Paraguay in 1930. This chapter focuses specifically on one group of Mennonites who remained in Russia until 1929, passed through Germany in 1930, and established the Fernheim Colony, Paraguay later that year. Refugees and immigrants are often labelled with a bewildering mix of identifications. The Mennonite refugees in this chapter selectively adopted national and religious identifications given to them by the German state and North American Mennonites to facilitate their escape from Russia. Once in Paraguay, refugees used Biblical texts to integrate these identifications into their collective narrative. This chapter contributes to our understanding of national indifference. ‘National indifference’ is a scholarly term used to describe people who do not conform to nationalist narratives.1 Current scholarship on national indifference overlooks Diaspora communities by focusing on specific geographical regions with ‘contested’ political and cultural spheres. Other studies focus on historically powerful groups, such as the nobility and Catholic Church, whose political authority was eventually usurped by the nationstate. This work demonstrates that some groups maintain traditions of proactive resistance to nationalism or use national identifications to preserve their autonomy. They are usually religious, organised at the communal level, and willing to migrate. This chapter also contributes to our understanding of religious Diasporas. Despite the proliferation of Diaspora studies across the humanities, research on its religious dimensions lags far behind. This is surprising considering the ethnoreligious origins of the term. In particular, current scholarship overlooks the way theology affects group migration. This chapter remedies this oversight by analysing how Mennonite refugees were affected by the ecumenical agenda of North American Mennonites who facilitated their escape from Russia. It also considers how refugees used Biblical texts to understand and interpret their migrations once they were settled in Paraguay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew Perspectives in Diasporic Experience
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781848882911
ISBN (Print)9789004374249
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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