One of this year’s recipients of a Plett Foundation grant is Rebecca Plett, a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at McMaster University. Her research project seeks to trace “cultural change” among Russian Mennonites, as a sense of where, exactly, Mennonites find themselves at “home”: in this world or the next. Specifically, she is interested in examining Mennonite identity in relation to physical suffering and death in relation to the historical fact of Mennonite martyrdom. Plett suggests that a sense of identity and being-in-the-world for contemporary Russian Mennonites is grounded within this “martyrology;” what literary scholar Magdalene Redekop describes as living in an unfinished history of suffering and persecution.
In order to access this perspective, she will be doing 6 months of fieldwork in Winnipeg, Steinbach, Winkler, and the surrounding areas. With a focus on how Mennonites “live” martyrdom through their own ailing and dying bodies, she will be interviewing professionals in the health care industry as well as adults facing serious illnesses and their families. She hopes to find out more about the bodily experience of illness, the nature and understanding of bodily suffering, interactions with the medical system, and what it means to be Mennonite in this context. In doing so, she is interested in uncovering how a people’s history, particularly a traumatic one, creates a sense of being-in-the-world, and how history and theology become embodied, lived, and indexed through contemporary bodily experience.