Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Penny, H Glenn

Second Advisor

Heineman, Elizabeth

First Committee Member

Cox, Jeffrey L

Second Committee Member

Gobat, Michel

Third Committee Member

Loewen, Royden


This is a comparative analysis of two German-speaking Mennonite colonies. One group of 1,800 migrants voluntarily left Russia for Canada in the 1870s and departed Canada for Paraguay’s Gran Chaco in 1927 to preserve their communal autonomy. Another group of 2,000 Mennonites remained in Russia until 1929, when Stalinist persecution forced them to flee as individual refugees through Germany to the Gran Chaco. Here, the colonies negotiated their relationships with each other and crafted different responses to German Nazis and American Mennonites who desired global German or Mennonite unity.

Comparing the groups’ collective narratives—as voluntary migrants and refugees—reveals problems faced by individuals who do not fit into prescribed national or religious molds. This work engages global forces—such as nationalism and displacement—and universal conditions affecting mobile groups—including how they negotiate group identifications and perpetuate local cultures. It begins from the premise that group identifications are not immutable and objective but are tied to fluid, subjective narratives.

This framework shapes three arguments: 1) Faith-based diasporas are some of the most tenacious carriers of national cultural features—such as languages and folkways—but they often maintain these features for their own ethnoreligious purposes. 2) Governments and aid agencies benefit from the existence of migrants and refugees by advancing mythologies that are inclusive or exclusive of these populations. 3) Mobile faith-based communities use national and religious concepts to interpret new environments but they formulate their collective narratives differently—on a spectrum from faithful disciples to exiled victims.


Diaspora, German, Mennonite, Narrative, Nationalism, Transnationalism


xv, 334 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 317-334).


Copyright © 2015 John Phillip Robb Eicher

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