Amish teens: pious, prudish – yet remarkably tolerant

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It’s hard to imagine that there are people living in the USA who have never heard of John Lennon or Marilyn Monroe. But there are – in their hundreds of thousands.

The Amish are a strict religious sect, Swiss in origin and now based in the American Midwest, famous for their prudish dress sense, big beards and eschewing of most modern technology. They largely cut themselves off from the rest of society to live in their own communities, devoting their lives to their Christian faith.

But when an Amish child turns 16 they embark on “rumspringa” – a rite of passage that allows them to leave their strict world to experience life on the outside. They then choose whether to be baptised as an adult into the Amish church – to refuse is to be cast out from family and community to live a rather more regular American life.

Rumspringa can take years and ends only when the individual believes they are ready to make the choice. It can prove extremely eye-opening for someone so young, sheltered and uneducated as an Amish adolescent – as we see in Amish: the World’s Squarest Teenagers, a new four-part Channel 4 (UK) documentary series beginning on Sunday.

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This post was last updated: Jul. 23, 2010