Hutterites Combine Traditions, Modernism

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Since there are two Hutterites colonies in Brookings County, perhaps you’ve seen some Hutterites around — maybe shopping at Wal-Mart or HyVee — and noticed the women’s head coverings and printed skirts. But what do you know of the Hutterites?

Colony life sets Hutterites apart from most Christian religious groups. According to sociology professor James Satterlee’s report “The Hutterites: A Study in Cultural Diversity,” colonies of 50 to 150 people form the basis for community life.

Within these communities, strict sharing exists, as they live by the “What’s mine is thine” philosphy, Satterlee reported. When a woman marries, she leaves her home colony to join that of her husband.

In addition to communal living, Hutterites maintain a principle of nonviolence.

Meredith Redlin, assistant professor of sociology, filled in a few gaps about the group’s religious beliefs.

“They are part of the Anabaptist movement from the 1500s and are an outgrowth of the Protestant Revolution begun by Luther,” she explained in an e-mail interview. “The name comes from their founder Jacob Hutter.”

Redlin said while most of their religious beliefs are the same as those of fundamentalist Protestants, there are some differences.

“They believe in adult baptism … and generally adhere to specific guides regarding gender, apparel and lifestyle,” she said.

According to Satterlee’s report, baptism means more to the Hutterites than getting wet.

“Baptism is a Hutterite’s total submission to God and the community.” Satterlee reported that most Hutterites make the decision to be baptized between the ages of 19 and 26.

Gender roles are strict in Hutterite colonies, dictating division of labor in business and home. Satterlee reported that “while women play a role in curch activities, they are not eligible to vote or hold formal leadership positions in the colony.”

As far as lifestyle differences, Hutterite practices may seem extreme to the average American. Satterlee’s report states, “Dance, theater, cards, smoking, motion pictures, television, and radio are generally off-limits.”

While this may sound similar to Amish practices, Redlin said the two groups are quite different.

“They’re both Anabaptist sects, but the Hutterites consider the Amish ‘those backward people,’ ” Redlin said.

While the Hutterites reject technology they feel is “distracting them from the godly life,” they may privately own stereos, camcorders, microwaves and so on, Redlin said.

While there is no TV, Redlin said colonies have other technological devices.

“Each colony has one phone and fax,” she said. “[There’s] generally one vehicle for ‘going to town.’ “

What else exists to separate Hutterites from your run-of-the-mill South Dakotan? Language is one factor.

“The first language learned is an antiquated form of German,” Redlin said. “Children grow up learning German and then English in ‘English’ school.”