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The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy Among the Bruderhof

by Julius H. Rubin

Buy the book: Julius H. Rubin. The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy Among the Bruderhof

Release Date: February, 2000

Edition: Hardcover


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Buy the book: Julius H. Rubin. The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy Among the Bruderhof

I would suggest reading this

Though I have not read the book, only excerpts, I would recommend it to others. Having had Dr. Rubin as a professor and gone to high school with some Bruderhof members, I am curious to see what the book holds. Dr. Rubin's wealth of knowledge and what appears to be fascinating lifestyles of the Bruderhof people compel me to recommend this book, even though I have yet to read it.

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Useful History...What About Now?

The Bruderhof, literally: "place of brothers", was formed under the charismatic leadership of Eberhard Arnold as an experimental Christian community at the time of the Weimar Republic. The intent of the experiment was to demonstrate that the Sermon on the Mount can be normative for all aspects of individual and communal life. It continues to this day.

The Bruderhof have existed for seventy years. In that short span they have migrated across three continents; suffered the vicissitudes of the Nazi's, xenophobia of their host countries, exile in the Paraguayan jungle; and have attempted to maintain a clarity of vision throughout. The group has been wracked by internal power struggles, as well as schisms with the other like-minded organizations. There has been tragic human fallout from these episodes.

Rubin extrapolates from this history, using as his primary sources the testimonies of those who were expelled from, or who left the community during its most tumultuous times, in order to present a psycho-socio portrait of the Bruderhof. It's a compelling picture.

Rubin makes serious charges against the Bruderhof: The Bruderhof are a closed, authoritarian group who are enthralled by a cult of personality. The Bruderhof are relentless in their persecution of those who dissent from their vision. The Bruderhof are hypocritical. The Bruderhof are abusive. The Bruderhof are sexually repressed, and thus warp their children. The Bruderhof are intolerant of modern psychology, and prefer exorcism to therapy. Rubin provides historical evidence for each of these charges.

Rubin suggests that the Bruderhof are liable for "Anfechtung" (feelings of sinful alienation from God) amongst its members. Rubin suggests that the very structure of the group: (sharing goods in common, constant introspection regarding one's relationship with God under the supervision of a "shepherd", along with a severe rigidity concerning human sexuality) is at the heart of a condition, the "Bruderhof Syndrome", which is marked by severe alienation, depression, and loss of self esteem.

But he does not adequately support this conclusion. First, the book is limited by its choice of historical context. Few of the examples presented have occurred since the late '70's. Rubin further undercuts his argument from history by admitting that the group has evolved away from pietism and toward an ecumenical approach to social activism. By Rubin's own admission, the Bruderhof today are not the same introversionist sect which provide the context of his study. Its fair to suggest that many of the factors contributing to the "Bruderhof Syndrome" may have been mitigated.

Second, he does not provide analysis of the incidence and type of neurosis in the Bruderhof. His brief chapter on the other Anabaptist groups contain more of this sort of information as regards the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Amish, then the book as a whole does when addressing the Bruderhof.

In fairness, the Bruderhof did not cooperate with Rubin in his study, unlike the studies regarding other high-context Anabaptist groups, which enjoyed the cooperation of their subjects. But then why raise the flag of pathological depression and anxiety concerning the Bruderhof if one is unable to adequately assess the issue?

The Bruderhof refusal to accommodate Rubin's research efforts is unfortunate. However the Bruderhof are forced by circumstance to maintain a relationship with the surrounding communities. They are in constant interaction with secondary schools, police, medical personnel, and community government. It would seem that if there were anything currently suspect about the Bruderhof; for example, if the emotional and physical abuse suffered by Bruderhof children at the time of the "Great Crisis" were continuing, then someone, somewhere, should have noticed.

The Bruderhof ask young adults to leave the community for at least a year, in order that they may ascertain for themselves whether they wish to remain with the community. Apparently close to 20% of these choose to continue with their lives on the outside. Surely some of them could have been available for Rubin's research. Yet in spite of what seem to be relatively rich sources of information, there is remarkably little in the book that speaks to contemporary events or cases.

Can Rubin make the case that the contemporary Bruderhof threaten the mental or emotional health of the Bruderhof child? Can he demonstrate that the Bruderhof today are any more of a threat to the unbalanced than, say, your local, neighborhood, Evangelical Church? Where are the interviews with secondary school teachers who teach the Bruderhof adolescents; or with therapists who deal with Bruderhof patients? Where are the interviews with the young adults who are on leave from their community?

The Bruderhof offer a socio-economic example of Christian Communism that is unique in the United States. They have maintained this paradigm for close to four generations. The Bruderhof are in a position to offer profound contributions to the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Hence, the Bruderhof are to be faulted for not allowing research in their midst. They need to rethink their relationship with scholarship.

An assessment of the Bruderhof, as they exist today, still needs to be written. An assessment of those emotional pathologies with which the Bruderhof contend still needs to occur. Rubin's history of the Bruderhof is informative. But it is presented as if it were a diagnosis of mental health issues as they exist within the contemporary Bruderhof. It is in this sense that the book is misleading.

"Other Side of Joy" is a history of grievances; an exposition of the tragic and unintended consequences of a unique experiment, rather then a study of religious melancholy per se. If the reader is expecting case studies, methods of diagnosis, treatments within the community, utilization of resources outside the community and so forth, then look elsewhere. It is the controversies swirling around the Bruderhof that are addressed, with vehemence, in this book.

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