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Goossen presentation sheds light from history on current rise of nationalism

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Ben Goossen’s research, in focusing on Mennonite history from the turn of the last century, also holds implications for world politics in the present day.

Goossen, Cambridge, Massachusetts, will give the next Friends of the MLA presentation at Bethel College. He speaks Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Kauffman Museum on the Bethel campus, on the topic “Mennonites at War: Military Service, Ethnic Cleansing and Global Migrations during and after the First World War.”

A century ago, the World War I transformed the global Mennonite church, Goossen says. The majority of Mennonites in North America abstained from military service – but thousands of their coreligionists in Europe, swayed by militarist ideologies, made a different choice.

Goossen draws on research from his forthcoming book, Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era (Princeton University Press, 2017), which examines the relationship between Mennonites and German nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

He takes the story through the Bolshevik Revolution and into the 1920s, showing how Mennonites across the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Austria-Hungary found new solidarity in efforts to help their “brethren in need” in the collapsing Russian Empire.

As communist soldiers, anarchist warlords and counterrevolutionary armies swept through long-established Mennonite settlements like the Molotschna and Chortitza colonies along the Black Sea, a worldwide Mennonite welfare community began to mobilize. Aiming to save the more than 100,000 coreligionists living in the new Soviet Union from famine and ethnic cleansing, new organizations like the U.S.-based Mennonite Central Committee sponsored mass population transfers to the Americas.

By the close of the 1920s, they had brought fully a quarter of all Mennonites out of the Soviet Union and helped form an autonomous “Mennonite state” in Paraguay.

A hundred years after the First World War put Mennonites on a global stage, this story both illuminates the worldwide dispersion of Mennonite communities today and provides a warning against the rising tide of nationalism in our own age.

Goossen is a doctoral student in history at Harvard University. He has two B.A. degrees, one in history and one in German studies, from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and an M.A. in history from Harvard.

Goossen has held fellowships from the Fulbright Commission and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and is a Beinecke Scholar at Harvard. He has received awards for excellence in scholarship from the Kansas Historical Foundation, the Associated Church Press and Swarthmore College. His essays and reviews appear in publications ranging from Nova Religio and Waging Nonviolence to the Journal of the History of Ideas blog.

The Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) at Bethel College sponsors these periodic presentations on topics related to Mennonite history and thought.

For directions or more information on the Friends of the MLA or the Jan. 10 program, call 316-284-5360 or e-mail

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.