My lecture explores how women in two devout religious communities cope with the internet and its apparent incompatibility with their communities’ values and practices. Two groups were chosen as the appropriate populations for my research, carried out between 2012 and 2015: Old Order Amish and Lithuanian and Hassidic Jewish ultra-Orthodox, both “mainstream” sub-communities that are generally familiar with the internet but limit their use of it. Participants in the study (82, approximately half from each community), answered questionnaires comprised of closed and open-ended questions. In keeping with the main subject of the conference, the lecture focuses on the Old Order Amish women, but comparison with the ultra-Orthodox will provide an inter-cultural context and shed additional light on the Old Order Amish respondents.
Although their discourses included similar framings of danger and threat from the internet, the two groups manifested different patterns of internet use (or nonuse). A quarter of the Old Order Amish and half of the ultra-Orthodox women were found to use the internet. Amish women reported using it to search for information or to shop; ultra-Orthodox women reported using it mostly for their jobs, but also to search for information, send emails, receive news updates, shop, and maintain contact with the family. None of the Amish women had internet at home, and their use was limited to the public library or friends’ homes. Most of the ultra-Orthodox used the internet outside of the home, especially in the workplace.
Rigorous adherence to religious dictates, the “strict life,” is greatly admired in these communities, and the women in both take considerable pride in manipulating their status in them. If the coins of modern societies are what their citizens have and use, the coins of these women are what they don’t have and don’t use. Their agency is reflected in how they negotiate the tension inherent in their contradictory roles as both gatekeepers and agents-of-change, which are analyzed in the lecture as valuable currencies in the cultural and religious markets these women negotiate.