The Amish were established as a separate sect between 1693 and 1697 on the basis of religious principles that continue to guide their communities. These rules, laid down by Jacob Ammann, a leader of a dissenting faction of the Swiss Anabaptists, include shunning (the social avoidance of excommunicated members), ceremonial foot washing as part of the communion service, and simplicity in dress and grooming. Today the rules are interpreted locally by the members of each congregation. The Amish, like other Anabaptist groups in Europe, suffered severe persecution and imprisonment. If they remained in their own countries, they were not allowed to own land and were denied citizenship. These restrictions prevented them from forming permanent settlements. As a result, those who stayed in their European homelands have largely been assimilated into the dominant religious groups there.
The bases for Amish existence as a distinct American subculture are their nonconformity in dress, homes, speech, attitudes toward education, and resistance to modernization and change. The Amish adhere to traditions that include living in rural areas, using horses for farming, marrying within the group, and dressing in a manner reminiscent of seventeenth-century Europeans. The Amish lead lives that are Socially distinct as well. Since the Amish are secure in their tradition of separation from the outside world, their relations with their non-Amish neighbors appear to be free of the judgmental attitudes of other separatist sects. Rules for Amish living prohibit more than an elementary school education, the ownership (but not always the use) of automobiles and telephones, and the use of electricity and modern conveniences. The Amish are aware of their position with respect to the larger cultural environment. Farmers especially consider that using technological farm implements would have a devastating impact on their ability to maintain a separate society.
Conformity to the consensual rules ( Ordnung ) for behavior serves to unify Amish communities. Their religious perspective emphasizes commitment to a self-sufficient Community of believers who reject worldly values. As part of a Religious ethic based on their interpretations of Biblical scripture, the Amish ideal is to provide totally for members of their congregations throughout the life cycle. The Amish therefore remain committed to the home as the locus of their church services and for the care of the sick, the orphaned, the indigent, the elderly, and the mentally retarded. Important values that are the result of socialization in the home rather than in school are the ability to cooperate with others and to work as a contributing member to the society.
Outside industries have moved to Amish districts in Indiana and Pennsylvania in order to take advantage of their reputation for hard and reliable work. The Amish, though, tend to maximize their interactions with members of their group through the spatial arrangements in their Communities, for example, while reducing interactions with outsiders. Like other rural communities, the encroachment of industrialization has diminished the possibility of isolation desired by the Amish.