Desert Patriarchy

Mormon and Mennonite Communities in the Chihuahua Valley

Janet Bennion (Author)
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On the high desert plateau of northern Mexico, outsiders have taken refuge from the secular world. Here three Anglo communities of Mormons and Mennonites have ordered their lives around male supremacy, rigid religious duty, and a rejection of modern technology and culture. In so doing, they have successfully adapted to this harsh desert environment.

Janet Bennion has lived and worked among these people, and in this book she introduces a new paradigm—"desert patriarchy"—to explain their way of life. This perspective sheds light not only on these particular communities but also on the role of the desert environment in the development and maintenance of fundamentalist ideology in other parts of the United States and around the globe.

Making new connections between the arid environment, opposition to technology, and gender ideology, Bennion shows that it is the interplay of the desert and the unique social traditions and gender dynamics embedded in Anglo patriarchal fundamentalism that accounts for the successful longevity of the Mexican colonies. Her model defines the process by which male supremacy, female autonomous networking, and religious fundamentalism all facilitate successful adaptation to the environment.

More than a theoretical analysis, Desert Patriarchy provides an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of these people, showing how they have taken refuge in the desert to escape religious persecution, the forced secular education of their children, and economic and political marginalization. It particularly sheds light on the ironic autonomy of women within a patriarchal system, showing how fundamentalist women in Chihuahua are finding numerous creative ways to access power and satisfaction in a society structured to subordinate and even degrade them.

Desert Patriarchy richly expands the literature on nontraditional religious movements as it enhances our understanding of how environment can shape society. It offers unique insights into women's status in patriarchal communities and provides a new way of looking at similar communities worldwide.

"An excellent work...The basic idea of Desert Patriarchy is a brilliant observation which has relevance not only for these people but also for the Middle Eastern nations with which our country is currently involved. Closer to home, this anthropological study of the way that three communities have adapted their beliefs to the same environmental conditions is full of well-observed comments, memorable characters, and human interest. It reads well as literature as well as science."
--Claudia L. Bushman, coauthor, Building the Kingdom: A History of Mormons in America

"A superb contribution to ethnographic knowledge about Mormons, especially the place of pural marriage in their history and their contemporary life.... Bennion's special place as  a Mormon woman writing about Mormon polygamy is a potential gold mine for this literature." --Philip L. Kilbride, coeditor, Encounters with American Ethnic Cultures 



Desert Patriarchy
205 Pages 6 x 9 x 0.8 Published: 2004 Hardcover (9780816523344)

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