New book looks at Edwards and print culture

Scholars of Jonathan Edwards have explored Edwards’ writings and legacies from seemingly every angle. Yet, a new monograph published by Oxford University Press has revealed a blind spot: print culture. In Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture, Jonathan Yeager, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, fills this lacuna.

JY bookThis book is grounded in extensive research. In four Appendices, Yeager provides a table of Edwards’s published works in chronological order up to 1800, a graph showing the most fruitful years for his publications, their prices and formats, and subscription lists for his most successful work, The Life of David Brainerd. But this work is no mere collection of data. Yeager unpacks a compelling narrative and advances an important thesis: “I argue,” he writes, “that Edwards’s printers, publishers, and editors shaped the public perception of him in the way that they packaged and marketed his publications” (xi).

Yeager has two intended audiences. First, he wants to help historians of print culture better understand the religious dimensions of the trade, and second, he guides scholars of religion through the critical connections between religious history and the history of the book. He has five chapters detailing the reception of Edwards’s writings, his relationship with his publishers and their impact on his public perception, and the role of those in the late eighteenth century who continued to publish Edwards’s writings to advance their own objectives.

Yeager also helpfully underscores the transatlantic dimension of evangelical publishing networks and its role in shaping the public identity of figures like Edwards. Not only did Edwards’s evangelical contemporaries like John Wesley and Isaac Watts in England help advance his publications, but so did his heirs, including his son Jonathan Edwards Jr. and the New Divinity men in New England, John Erskine in Scotland, and Baptists in England such as John Ryland Jr.

The German reception of Edwards’s Faithful Narrative is of particular interest, with two groups translating and appropriating Edwards’s work in 1738, but in different ways. On the on hand, Johann Adam Steinmetz packaged Edwards’s work as reinforcing a Lutheran approach to revivalism. On the other, a group of German Reformed Pietists embraced Edwards’s Reformed inflections in their translation, and catered it to a more uneducated and popular readership (23-24).

This book is a much-needed resource, and students and scholars of religious history and print culture will benefit greatly from it.

–Ryan Hoselton

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