Tag Archives: transatlantic

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

Old Puritan texts now online

The John Richard Allison Library of Vancouver, Canada, has digitized scores of rare Puritan volumes and made them available online. The books come from the personal libraries of James Houston and J.I. Packer, evangelical theologians associated with Regent College. These British texts come from the 17th and 18th centuries and are well worth checking out.

A glimpse:

Isaac Ambrose The Compleat Works

Daniel Neal History of the Puritans

Benjamin Keach The Display of Glorious Grace


— Daniel Silliman

Inauguration report

The Jonathan Edwards Center Germany was inaugurated on July 11 with an international conference of Edwards scholars at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

The Center is a partnership between Heidelberg University’s Department of Theology, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School. Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a pastor, philosopher, scientist, missionary and college president. He is widely regarded as the greatest North American theologian, and has inspired intense and prolonged scholarly interest. The Center seeks to contribute to the study of Edwards and Christianity in Colonial America by supporting and encouraging examinations of this pivotal figure and his world from a transatlantic and comparative perspective, that sees the American revivals as part of a much larger Protestant awakening, which included the English evangelical movement and the Scottish Cambuslang Wark as well as Dutch and German Pietism.

Another interest of the Center is Edwards’ continuing legacy, and the ways in which his ideas are adopted and adapted in contemporary evangelical discourse, especially as recent years have seen a resurgence of religious interest in this Puritan thinker.

As Prof. Jan Stievermann, director of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany and Professor of the History of Christianity in North America, said at the inauguration, Edwards work serves as a window onto a whole vista of subjects.

“We conceive of Edwards’s voluminous works,” he said, “as an entry point to study, both in a critical and in an interdisciplinary manner, the whole cosmos of early American religious and cultural history …. Edwards is also a great source to explore a great variety of topics that are not primarily religious/theological, including the history of slavery, Indian-white relations, history of education, reading culture, the tradition of New England letters and literature. Moreover, as one of the founding fathers of the tradition of American revivalism, Edwards is a key figure for understanding the history of evangelicalism, so important to U.S. culture.”

A keynote lecture was given on one of those topics by Prof. Peter J. Thuesen, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of the acclaimed Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine. Thuesen examined what is known of Edwards’ expansive library, from there constructing the “mental world” in which Edwards lived, arguing that he has to be thought of in the context of a web of transatlantic ties.

Calling Edwards’ library a confirmation of the “transatlantic thesis,” Thuesen told the international audience gather in the HCA atrium from prestigious universities in the United States Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, that “Edwards’ book world was profoundly transatlantic. If we were to remove the complex web of connections linking him to the British Isles and Continental Europe — connections involving economic, political, cultural, and intellectual life — his book world would almost completely disappear.”

A day-long symposium following the inauguration explored new avenues for the study of Jonathan Edwards, building off of the idea that Edwards should be thought of in an international, transatlantic context.

Prof. Hermann Wellenreuther, of the University of Göttingen spoke of how “Atlantic transfers” worked in the Early Modern period to affect religion, Dr. Sarah Rivett, of Princeton, examined the cultural exchanges at work in missionary linguistics in colonial New England, and Prof. Reiner Smolinski, of Georgia State University, spoke of Edwards’ approach to the philosophical materialism being advanced in Europe at the time.

Prof. Stievermann said the symposium served as a foundation for one of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany’s main missions, to serve as a hub for a research network connecting institutions and projects.

“We already see the fruits of that growing network,” Stievermann said.



The Jonathan Edwards Center Germany was successfully inaugurated last week with an excellent talk by Prof. Thuesen and a day-long symposium on new directions in Jonathan Edwards studies.

We here at JEC Germany are especially interested in and excited by the connections that were made. Scholars from the U.S. and Germany, but also the U.K., Belgium, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere came to the Heidelberg Center for American Studies last week, shared, and connected. There were multiple conversations over the two days of the conference about how different projects can come together. How there are possibilities for mutual aid and cooperation, and how available resources and information can be shared.

More photos of the conference can be seen here.

The first James W.C. Pennington Award: Albert J. Raboteau

Albert J. Raboteau, recipient of the first James W.C. Pennington Award.

“I have been moved,” Albert J. Raboteau writes in an essay in A Fire in the Bones,  “by the pervasive faith of black Christians that God was acting in their own history.”

Studying that faith and that history has been Prof. Raboteau’s life work. The Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion at Princeton University, he is the author of the seminal book on Christianity among American slaves, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South. He has further explored the African-American history of faith in Canaan Land  and African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture.

He reflected powerfully on his own relationship to that faith in  A Sorrowful Joy, where Raboteau speaks of his own spiritual journey, and A Fire in the Bones, which opens with a beautiful essay on how faith and history intertwine.

 “History is based on an act of faith, the faith that events are susceptible of meanings,” he writes. “I, as a historian and a believer, cannot but hope that our history is touched by the providence of God.”

Students at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies have had the special opportunity to explore that history with Raboteau this semester in a compact seminar on African-American religion.  Raboteau will also speak of this history in a free public event next week, focusing on the topic of “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement as Precedent for Religion in U.S. Politics.”

The lecture is open to the public: June 14, at 6:15 p.m., in the Atrium of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais, Hauptstraße 120. Reception to follow.

Raboteau comes to the HCA as the first recipient of the James W.C. Pennington Award. The award strengthens the ties that bind  the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg to the United States and the international academic community. It was created in 2011 by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies and the Faculty of Theology, honoring the life of James W.C. Pennington. An African-American churchman, abolitionist and pacifist, Pennington received an honorary doctorate from the Ruperto Carola in 1849, the first black man to receive a degree of higher learning in Europe.

Pennington, who wrote what may be the first history of African Americans, The Origin and History of the Colored People, as well as his own autobiographical slave narrative, The Fugitive Blacksmith, holds a special place in the history of the University of Heidelberg, connecting the university to American and specifically African-American history. This award thus pays tribute to Pennington’s work.

The James W.C. Pennington Award is funded by the Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation, and is given to scholars who have done distinguished work on the African-American experience in the Atlantic world. The award fosters further research on topics important to Pennington.

The university and the HCA are honored to give the first award to Raboteau, who carries on the history and tradition of Pennington.

Pennington, writing his own history in 1849, the same year he was given an honorary doctorate in Heidelberg, noted exactly the kind of faith in history that has so inspired Raboteau:

“The limits of this work compel me to pass over many interesting incidents which occurred,” Pennington wrote. “I must confine myself only to those which will show the striking providence of God.”

— Daniel Silliman

Attending to the transatlantic context

Transatlantic!  We like to see transatlantic.

We at the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany were happy to see the Wesley Studies and Evangelical Studies groups at AAR have put out a call for papers for the 2012 Chicago meeting comparing Edwards and John Wesley. The cfp says it will be a joint session, entitled, “Anthropology, Affections, and Awakenings in Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) and John Wesley (1703-91).”

They emphasize, too, that they’re not asking for papers that look at Wesley or Edwards. They’re not proposing a panel that would toggle back and forth between the Methodist and the Puritan, between England and New England. Instead, the cfp says, “Papers proposed for this joint session should be comparative in character and should give significant attention to both figures.”

Bravo, we say.

This is an encouraging direction in scholarship, and one the center here in Heidelberg hopes to support and encourage.

All too often, we find, transatlantic contacts are ignored, or, if mentioned, conceptualized only in terms of “early influences” on the English-speaking main protagonists. Rather than understanding the relationship as one between contemporaries, as a give and take, to be thought of in terms of a network, there’s a simple, linear narrative of Americanization, according to which European church traditions eventually metamorphosed into something new and distinctively American in the New World.

Though good work has already been done on interactions and exchanges between religious groups in 18th century Europe and America — Susan O’Brien researched her notable piece, “A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Networks, 1735-1755,” in the 1970s — there’s still much to be done.

Some of which, it looks like, will be happening in Chicago this Nov., thanks to the good work of the Wesley and Evangelical studies groups.


— Daniel Silliman