Wednesday, May 30, 2012

David Hempton on the Church and the Long Eighteenth Century

Randall Stephens

London, 1808. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library, Yale University.
The April issue of Historically Speaking includes Donald Yerxa's interview with David Hempton. In July 2012 Hempton will assume his role as dean of Harvard Divinity School. Hempton is a leading historian of religion with numerous scholarly interests, including religion and political culture, comparative secularization in Europe and North America, the history and theology of evangelical Protestantism, and the rise of world Christianity in the early modern period. He has written a number of important and award-winning books, including Methodism and Politics in British Society, 1750-1850 (Stanford University Press, 1984); Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland: From the Glorious Revolution to the Decline of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1996); Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (Yale University Press, 2005); and Evangelical Disenchantment: Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt (Yale University Press, 2008). His most recent book is The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century, published in 2011 by I.B. Tauris as part of its History of the Christian Church series.

Donald A. Yerxa: What are you attempting to do in The Church in the Long Eighteenth Century?

David Hempton: This is a general history of worldwide Christianity in the so-called long 18th century (roughly 1680 to 1820). I adopt a consciously global perspective on the identity and manifestations of the church and try to move beyond emphases and topics that are rooted mainly in Europe. In a sense I have written two books for the price of one. Book one seeks to "map" world Christianity in all its manifest diversity—Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and multiple indigenous varieties. I also try to address the thorny problem of missionary motivation in the early modern period before choosing sites of "encounter" between European Christians and the wider world in North and Latin America, the Caribbean Islands, India, China, and Africa. Book two deals with more conventional themes such as the Enlightenment, the evangelical revival, the rise of religious toleration and antislavery sentiment, the French and American Revolutions, secularization, and much else besides. Even here, I try to offer some fresh interpretations of some much-studied episodes in the history of Christianity.

Yerxa: What are some of the topics that come to the fore in your survey of global Christianity that would not be particularly present in a study of European and/or North American Christianity?

Hempton: One way to answer that question would be to look at how the field of ecclesiastical or church history has changed since, for example, the volumes of the Pelican History of the Christian Church first appeared in the 1960s. The Pelican series has stood the test of time for half a century, but obviously much has changed since then. For example, Gerald Cragg's excellent volume, The Church in the Age of Reason, 1648-1789 (1960), deals mostly with the ecclesiastical history of Western Europe, and especially the intellectual challenges posed by the Enlightenment. Since then, shifts in intellectual culture associated with postcolonialism, postmodernism, and feminism and changes in historical methods ushered in by the growth of social, cultural, and global history have transformed the way we think about early modern religion. In particular, religious encounters between European Christians and native peoples throughout the world can be interpreted no longer merely through the eyes of Europeans. Hence, I deal with complex manifestations of Christianity among indigenous people, slave cultures, and other civilizations. . . . read more at Project Muse>>>

No comments: