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Anabaptist historian to give 2008 Menno Simons Lectures

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A historian internationally known for his research and writing in the German Protestant Reformation, particularly the Anabaptist movement, will deliver the 57th annual Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College Nov. 2-4.

James Stayer is emeritus professor of history at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, and has been a teacher and writer of history since 1959. He earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He supervised the graduate programs of Werner O. Packull, Geoffrey Dipple and Michael Driedger, all of whom have written on Anabaptist/Mennonite history. Anabaptist/Mennonite pluralism has been the overarching theme of his scholarship, as of this lecture series.

Stayer grew up in Lancaster County, Pa., in a Pennsylvania Dutch family with Church of the Brethren connections. He received his undergraduate education at Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pa., and later taught at Bridgewater (Va.) College, both liberal arts institutions affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. He has an M.A. from the University of Virginia and also taught at Ithaca College and Bucknell University before emigrating to Canada in 1968 to teach at Queen’s University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1977.

In 1972, Stayer published his first book, Anabaptists and the Sword (Coronado Press), which is still considered one of the foremost texts on the German Anabaptist movement. In it, Stayer indicates how the first decade of the Reformation (often referred to as the “Radical Reformation”) saw the Anabaptists employ violence as a means towards realizing political and apolitical goals.

Stayer also made a major impact on Reformation studies in 1975 when he co-authored (with Packull and Klaus Deppermann) the essay “From Monogenesis to Polygenesis” in Mennonite Quarterly Review, which countered the argument that the Anabaptist movement split after having a unified origin. The authors’ new thesis suggested that several concurrent movements formed independently, and asserted that the term “Anabaptist” must be used very carefully, as the movement was not, on the whole, unified. The article has significantly affected the treatment of Anabaptist history in the ensuing years.

In addition to Anabaptists and the Sword, Stayer is also the author of The German Peasants’ War and Anabaptist Community of Goods (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991). With Packull, he co-edited The Anabaptists and Thomas Müntzer (Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1980). More recently, he co-edited two collections on the radical Reformation: with Hans-Jürgen Goertz, Radikalität und Dissent im 16. Jahrhundert (Radicalism and Dissent in the Sixteenth Century) (Duncker & Humblot, 2002) and, with John D. Roth, A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism (Brill, 2007).

Stayer is married to Sherry Henick Tunnicliffe. He has three grown children.

Stayer’s topic for the 2008 Menno Simons Lectures is “Anabaptist/Mennonite Pluralism.” Sunday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m., he will speak on “Anabaptist Beginnings, July 1523-February 1527: Grebel and Hubmaier; Mantz and Sattler.” Monday, Nov. 3, at 11 a.m., he will speak in Bethel College’s convocation on “The Prophetic Dissent of the Anabaptists: Then and Now” and that evening at 7:30 p.m. on “Pilgram Marpeck and the Austerlitz Brethren: A ‘Disappeared’ Anabaptist Denomination.” The final lecture is Tuesday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m., on “Menno and Münster.”

All lectures are in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center and are free and open to the public. Opportunity for questions and discussion will follow the presentation of each lecture.

The John P. and Carolyn Schrag Kaufman family established the Menno Simons Lectureship Endowment to promote research and public lectures by recognized scholars relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and culture, past and present. Since 1997, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke has also contributed substantially to the endowment. Both families have their roots in the Moundridge area.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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