Two unique religious groups were attracted to the fertile agricultural soil of southeast Iowa in the mid-1800’s: the Old Order Amish, in 1846, and the Amana Society, in 1855. Both groups sought isolated, sparsely-populated areas with adequate economic opportunities, to preserve and develop the respective separatist communities.
But the Amana people and the Old Order Amish are two distinct groups with very different historical traditions and religious teachings. There is, furthermore, no ethnic relationship between the two groups, nor has there been much interaction over the years. Still the fact that these two groups settled within 50 to 60 miles of one another, eight years apart, held separatist viewpoints, spoke German and dressed in uniformly outdated styles, has caused numerous visitors to confuse the two groups. This confusion has been accentuated in recent years as both the Amana Colonies and the Old Order Amish have become major tourist attractions.
Many people think that the Inspirationists and the Amish are one and the same ethno-religious group, or that they are two denominations of one major religious affiliation -- the Amana Colonies representing a liberal assemblage, the Old Order Amish, the conservative wing. Others have decided that the word “Amish” is simply a form of the word “Amana.” The two names certainly sound familiar. This only adds to the dilemma. The Amana Colonies and the Old Order Amish are, however, not really related at all, not in any historical or contemporary sense. Let us define the differences.
Two Unique Cultures in Southeast Iowa By Rod A. Janzen ©1988