Over the course of American history, several religious sects and utopian societies have flowered, only to fade away.  But out in the country in 28 U.S. states, a group that is deliberately living in a 19th-century time warp is prospering.  The Amish drive horse-drawn buggies, plow with draft horses rather than motorized tractors, and speak a form of German among themselves.  They allow no electricity into their homes or workplaces, not because it represents modernity but because it would tie them to the outside world that the Amish wish to avoid.

Married Amishmen wear beards and straw hats.  Women wrap their hair tightly into buns beneath prayer coverings.  Amish work ? farming, weaving, furniture-making ? is long and hard.

Amish typically have five or more children. They build more and more wings onto their farmhouses to accommodate new generations and aging adults.  Given a free and open chance to leave the sect, four of five Amish young adults elect to stay. 

All of which helps explain the following:

According to researchers at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania ? a region where gawking at the Amish has become a popular tourist activity ? there are more than 225,000 Amish nationwide ? almost twice as many as there were in 1992.  In that time, Amish have moved into 16 new states as far west as Colorado.

The Amish, who came to America from the Alsace region of France in the early 1700s in search of religious tolerance, do not live in communes.  Their handsome farms are spread among their non-Amish neighbors.  There are no Amish churches or religious icons other than the Christian Bible, and no special creed other than Christ's example of living simply and humbly and helping others. 

The Amish made headlines two years ago by forgiving and embracing the widow of a homicidal milkman who killed five Pennsylvania Amish girls.   

Living without telephones or computers, or even electricity, the Amish happily allow the Information Age to pass them by.  Questioned about their apparent backward ways, they ask their neighbors, Where has progress gotten you?  Are you happier?  More fulfilled?  More loved?