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CMU professor’s new book traces the history of Mennonites in California

Book launch set for Wednesday, February 25 at McNally Robinson

A new book by a Canadian Mennonite University professor explores the experience of Mennonites in California.

Written by Dr. Brian Froese, Associate Professor of History at CMU, California Mennonites is available in stores now. A Winnipeg book launch event is planned for Wednesday, February 25 at 7:00 PM at McNally Robinson (1120 Grant Ave.).

2015-02-11 - California Mennonites by Brian Froese 01The book traces the history of Mennonites in the Golden State from the nineteenth-century migrants who came in search of sunshine and fertile soil, to the traditionally agrarian community that struggled with issues of urbanization, race, gender, education, and labour in the twentieth century, to the evangelically-oriented, partially-assimilated Mennonites of today.

“What makes the California story fascinating to me is that, unlike many of the other Mennonite immigration stories, this one has very little to do with religion itself,” Froese says. “It is primarily for economic betterment, whether it’s escaping the depression of the 1890s or the 1930s, and it’s also a question of people pursuing physical healing and health.”

Froese places Mennonite experiences against a backdrop of major historical events, including World War II and Vietnam, and social issues, from labor disputes to the evolution of mental health care.

“It’s a book that speaks to the experience of people who are not just Mennonite and not just living in California,” Froese says. “This is a case study that looks at what happens when a small, ethno-religious group that is mission-minded finds itself in a rapidly changing environment that is marked by modernity, urbanization, and secularization.”

Three primary strategies emerged as California Mennonites strove to keep their identity intact: some embraced the twentieth-century American evangelicalism of Billy Graham; some reclaimed their Anabaptist heritage rooted in sixteenth-century ideals like pacifism, congregationalism, and discipleship; and others committed to a type of social justice that saw them working with the government to bring quiet transformation to Californian society.

One thing that makes the California Mennonite experience unique, Froese says, is that it is dominated by the Mennonite Brethren.

“This is one place where the Mennonite Brethren are more numerous, and much more influential, than other larger national Mennonite denominations,” Froese says.

He adds that Mennonites everywhere, regardless of their location or exact denominational affiliation, will be able to learn something from the book.

Brian Froese
Dr. Brian Froese, author of California Mennonites, will host a February 25 book launch event at McNally Robinson

Ultimately, California Mennonites is a story about a people grappling with what it means to be good citizens and good Christians.

“The places may be different, and some of what’s going on of course is different from today, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from, be inspired by, or be cautioned by the experience of our co-religionists in other places,” Froese says.

“It’s no different than reading about the sixteenth century Anabaptists and learning from their experience in those contexts.”

Froese has taught at CMU since 2005. In the past, he has published articles on the Anabaptist vision; archival research and pedagogy; and, popular eschatologies from the horror of Left Behind, dystopic California in evangelical fiction, and lyrics of U2 and Black Sabbath.

California Mennonites is his first book.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences and social sciences, and graduate degrees in Theology and Ministry. CMU has over 1,600 students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury campus and in its Menno Simons College and Outtatown programs.

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For additional information, please contact:

Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2