Urry, James 1949–

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Urry, James 1949–


Born March 25, 1949, in London, England; immigrated to New Zealand, 1983; son of James and Joyce Urry; married Rita Parsons, 1968; children: Katherine, Judith, Nicholas. Education: University College, University of London, B.Sc. (honors), 1971; Oxford University, England, D.Phil., 1978.


Office—Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian, educator, writer, and editor. Taught school for a year in Jersey, British Crown dependency; Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, Australia, faculty member; Australian National University, Canberra, senior tutor, 1978-82; Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, 1983—. Visiting research fellowships at the University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Member of the Siberian Mennonite Research Initiative.


Royal Anthropological Institute (fellow), Association of Social Anthropologists of the Commonwealth.


None but Saints: The Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789-1889, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1989, reprinted, with a new introduction by the author, Pandora Press (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada), 2007.

Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology, Harwood Academic Publishers (Philadelphia, PA), 1993.

Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood: Europe, Russia, Canada, 1525-1980, University of Manitoba Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Shepherds, Servants and Prophets: Leadership among the Russian Mennonites (ca. 1880-1960), edited by Harry Loewen, Herald Press (Scottsdale, PA), 2003; and A Polymath Anthropologist: Essays in Honour of Ann Chowning, edited by Claudia Gross, Harriet D. Lyons, and Dorothy A. Counts, University of Auckland Department of Anthropology (Auckland, New Zealand), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Australian Journal of Anthropology, Mennonite Life, and the Journal of Mennonite Studies. Serves on editorial board of the Journal of Mennonite Studies.


James Urry is a historian whose research specialties include complex societies and the history of anthropology, especially British anthropology and the history of Australian Aborigines. He also has an ongoing interest in Mennonites in Europe and America. Beginning in the early 1970s, Urry has conducted research among "Russian" Mennonites in Canada, which has involved research in the United States, Russia, and the Ukraine as well. Abe J. Dueck, writing in Direction, commented that "those who have come to know Urry through his frequent contacts with North American Mennonites have come to respect him as perhaps the most knowledgeable scholar of Russian Mennonitism today."

Urry's None but Saints: The Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789-1889 was first printed in 1998 and reprinted with a new introduction by the author in 2007. In his book, the author focuses on the first century of Russian Mennonite settlement and the dynamics of change involved in Russian Mennonite communities from 1789 to 1889. Urry also chronicles the establishment of successful agrarian colonies in southern Russia and the establishment of religious congregations. He also examines the establishment of new economic, social, and political institutions.

In the process of his study, the author discusses how Mennonites in Russia faced the dual challenge of an emerging modern, industrial society and the ever growing power of the Russian government. He explores how tension and conflict in the Mennonite communities grew out of the Mennonites meeting these new challenges, leading some to grow extremely successful economically. Ultimately, according to Urry, these changes resulted in the division of congregations and communities and led to more Mennonites immigrating to the United States and Canada. The book includes tables, maps, appendices, a bibliography, and reproductions of paintings. Dueck stated, None but Saints is a "‘must’ for everyone interested in the Russian phase of Mennonite experience and its formative influence on many Mennonites in North and South America in particular."

Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood: Europe, Russia, Canada, 1525-1980, was called "an extensive and scholarly study" by MBR Bookwatch contributor Michael Dunford. Although the Mennonites have long view themselves and have been viewed by others as a largely apolitical people, the author presents another view of a community that, from sixteenth-century Prussia to twentieth-century Manitoba, Canada, has take an active interest in political affairs. "Urry's research … uncovers a surprising degree of Mennonite involvement in politics," noted Al Koop in Utopian Studies.

Traditionally, Mennonites began as a group that rejected the authority and power of earthly rulers. Nevertheless, the Mennonite communities soon found that, in order to survive, they had to come to terms with governments, legal systems, and numerous political forces. Urry focuses primarily on the Dutch/Prussian Russian Mennonite Experience in Europe and Manitoba as he explores how Mennonite communities reconciled themselves to the political realities of the world. In the process, he examines key issues, such as how the Mennonites who had political contact and engagement dealt with these matters in confessions of faith and catechisms. He also analyzes how Prussian emigrants struggled to maintain special rights and a separate identity among a totalitarian Soviet Regime.

Urry's primary area of interest involves the ways in which Mennonites tried to balance their principles of nonresistance and rejection of earthly authority with the realities of survival in domains often hostile to their existence. (For example, some Mennonites even ran for office in Canadian provincial elections in an effort to help their people maintain their independence.) In addition to looking at the Mennonites' political involvement in Russia and Canada, the author also examines the Dutch, German, and Polish-Prussian Mennonite communities in relation to their political involvement with different types of governments, from autocracies to democracies. In addition, Urry explains the Mennonites' general approach to achieving tolerance over time, which involved the Mennonites contacting authorities and obtaining a detailed explanation of what they must do to obtain government tolerance of their communities.

"James Urry's new book is historical social anthropology at its best," wrote Gerhard Rempel in the American Review of Canadian Studies. Rempel added, "It is both comprehensive and narrowly focused, spanning the centuries from the founding of the Mennonite church in the 16th century to the maturation of a segment of the worldwide community in the 1980s, while concentrating nearly exclusively on the process and character of that church's politicization in the practical and theoretical realms." Canadian Journal of History contributor Walter Klaassen noted that the author successful dispels the notion that the Mennonites were completely apolitical. Klaassen also praised the work, noting: "The author combines empathy with his subject, the people, and their convictions, with dispassionate analysis and a careful and honest drawing of conclusions," adding, "This work is a major contribution to the history of the Mennonites as well as of Canada."

Urry is also the author of Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology. This collection of his essays explores various aspects of British anthropology's past, primarily by placing people, events, and institutions within their wider historical context. Beginning with the foundation of British social anthropology in the 1840s, the author follows a century of immense change in British anthropology by examining several themes, including innovations in ethnographic research writings and the redefinition of the content and boundaries that constitute anthropology. The author also writes about institutional change, how the field became a professional and academic area of endeavor. Urry ultimately follows the field to the emergence of new anthropological practices during the 1920s and 1930s and to the circumstances that enabled social anthropology to triumph as an intellectual, academic, and professional discipline after World War II. "All the pieces are readable, interesting and original, and he makes a number of fresh arguments that challenge established views on the history of social anthropology," wrote Adam Kuper in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Kuper also stated, "Together the essays provide a nuanced account of the roots of the discipline."



American Anthropologist, September, 1994, George W. Stocking, Jr., review of Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology, p. 721.

American Review of Canadian Studies, winter, 2006, Gerhard Rempel, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood: Europe, Russia, Canada, 1525-1980, p. 672.

Canadian Journal of History, spring-summer, 2007, Walter Klaassen, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood.

Canadian Literature, spring, 1994, Howard Reimer, review of None but Saints: The Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789-1889, p. 104.

Direction, spring, 1991, Abe J. Dueck, review of None but Saints.

Isis, December, 1994, Henrika Kuklick, review of Before Social Anthropology, p. 721.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, January, 1991, Jonathan Shepard, review of None but Saints, p. 135.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March, 1995, Adam Kuper, review of Before Social Anthropology, p. 202.

MBR Bookwatch, May, 2006, Michael Dunford, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood.

Russian Review, October, 1990, George K. Epp, review of None but Saints, p. 496.

Slavonic and East European Review, October, 1990, Simon Dixon, review of None but Saints, p. 762.

Times Literary Supplement, May 18, 1990, Barbra Godlee, review of None but Saints, p. 531.

Utopian Studies, winter, 2007, Al Koop, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood, p. 95.


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (April, 2007), Marlene Epp, review of Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood.

Michigan State University Press,http://msupress.msu.edu/ (June 24, 2008), brief profile of author.

Victoria University of Wellington Web site,http://www.victoria.ac.nz/ (June 24, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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Urry, James 1949–

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