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Harvard historian will look at Mennonite relationship to German nationalism

April 16th, 2018

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Kauffman Museum’s first public event of the 2017-18 school year will feature a Harvard doctoral student with Kansas ties and a newly published book on Mennonites in Germany.

Ben Goossen, Cambridge, Massachusetts, grew up in Topeka (where his parents still live) before going to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and then on to graduate studies in history at Harvard University, where he is completing his doctoral degree.

In May, Princeton University Press released Goossen’s first book, Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era.

He will speak, and sign copies of the book, Aug. 27 at 3 p.m. in the auditorium of Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus.

Chosen Nation is for sale at the museum store (corner of Main and 27th streets in North Newton), and will also be available for purchase the afternoon of the signing.

Goossen spoke on the Bethel campus this past January for one of the periodic Friends of the MLA (Mennonite Library & Archives at Bethel) programs. His topic was “Mennonites at War: Military Service, Ethnic Cleansing and Global Migrations during and after the First World War.”

“It will be great to be back in the North Newton area and to present to the Kauffman Museum constituency,” Goossen said. “Since I’ve given talks in the area before on both World War I and the Nazi period, this might be a good opportunity to give a broader overview that begins in the 19th century and follows the overall chronological and thematic contours of the book.”

Goossen has entitled his Aug. 27 talk “Are Mennonites German? Religion and Nationalism in the Global Diaspora.”

Mennonites in North America – who are traditionally pacifist – experienced discrimination as “Germans” during both World Wars, even though their faith originated in 16th-century Switzerland and the Netherlands, not in Germany.

“In our own day,” Goossen said, “popular stereotypes portray Mennonite culture and religion as ‘German’ – yet most Anabaptists worldwide live in the global South and are people of color. Why has this notion [of Mennonites as German] proved so persistent?”

Drawing on Chosen Nation, Goossen will explore the tangled history of Mennonites’ relationship with German nationalism.

Starting with the emergence of German consciousness among Mennonite church leaders in 19th-century Europe, Goossen will trace the spread of nationalist ideas to Mennonite communities in places as far-flung as Kansas, Manitoba, Paraguay, Imperial Russia and Brazil.

“Sometimes nationalism found fertile ground,” he said. “At other times, it met opposition and outright hostility.

“Following this story through the Bolshevik Revolution, Nazi period and the Cold War, I’ll look at how Mennonites’ uneasy relationship with Germany continues to reverberate across the global church.”

Goossen has B.A. degrees in history and German studies from Swarthmore and an M.A. in history from Harvard.

He has held fellowships from the Fulbright Commission and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), is a Beinecke Scholar at Harvard, and has received awards for excellence in scholarship from the Kansas Historical Foundation, the Associated Church Press and Swarthmore College.

Goossen’s essays and reviews appear in publications ranging from Nova Religio and Waging Nonviolence to the Journal of the History of Ideas blog.

His essay “Why 500 Years? A Critique of Anabaptism’s Upcoming Anniversary Celebration” is the centerpiece of the 2017 issue of Bethel’s online journal Mennonite Life, which also includes 13 responses to the essay from around the world. See

The Aug. 27 Kauffman Museum program is free and open to the public.

The museum’s next event will feature Goossen’s mother, Rachel Waltner Goossen, a member of the history faculty at Washburn University in Topeka.

As part of the opening of the special exhibit “Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War,” Waltner Goossen will speak on the history of conscientious objection, Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. in the Kauffman Museum auditorium.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the permanent exhibits – “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” – is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16 and free for Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website,, or Facebook page.

About Bethel

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.