A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552–1610, by R. Po-Chia Hsia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. 273. $82. ISBN:  9780199592258.

Reviewed by Kevin L. Cope
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.3
Cite: Kevin L. Cope, review of A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552–1610, by R. Po-Chia Hsia, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 10-13, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.3.

Untouched by the innovations of modernist authors, most writers of scholarly prose present a conveniently linear world where cause precedes effect and where abundance yields to organization. Multidimensional phenomena of complex personalities decompose into bits and pieces that, in turn, may be evaluated sequentially. Despite all the trendy chatter about innovative, multilevel pedagogies, academic discourse remains remarkably straightforward and flat. Cinema, television, and other visually deep media, by contrast, routinely deploy multiplicity and confusion. Taking a cue from Renaissance drama, with its perplexing habit of beginning in medias res, contemporary popular media routinely plunge uninformed viewers into simultaneously transpiring scenes, events, and stories in the expectation that dominant themes, issues, and personalities will work themselves into clearer view. It is exactly this strategy that R. Po-Chia Hsia follows in A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552–1610, a magisterial travelogue-biography in which the central figure, the son of an ambitious bourgeois pharmacist who literally made good by doing holy deeds in hostile environments, keeps emerging, again and again, from a slightly uncanny background of strange, exotic, colorful, frightening, shadowy, and, always, cinematic events.

The made-for-more-than-TV movie that was Matteo Ricci’s life opens, in Hsia’s technicolor rendering of the adventures of a man-in-religious-black, with a vivid montage. Hsia’s first chapter alone is enough to conjure memories of Cecil B. DeMille, Father Flanagan, and maybe a little bit of Houdini. In the dazzling opening sequence, the young Ricci breaks out of his affluent but claustrophobic society and embarks on a full-throttle career, a career that seems to run in a thousand directions even while the hand of a directing narrator such as Henry Fielding or Eliza Haywood or maybe even providence seems to hold the steering wheel. Leaving the cultivated but still provincial county seat of Macerata, Ricci enters the glitzy world of the Roman capital with perfect timing, at the moment of Jesuit ascendancy. Quickly mesmerized by an intellectual glamor by which the Jesuits outshine even the eternal city, Ricci basks in the cerebral radiance of mathematician and calendar reformer Christopher Clavius and of theological and diplomatic superstar Robert Bellarmine, all while relishing the jubilee year of the universal church. Meanwhile, a seeming miracle occurs. Young Matteo’s father, fearing that his son might abandon riches for righteousness, attempts to head off his son’s confession of religious vows only to be stopped in his tracks by a fever, a mishap that the meddling dad interprets as the intervention of providence. Add to this Ricci’s early experience of the emotionally overpowering interior decorating tastes of the Jesuits—murals showing instruments of torture purportedly overcome by the heroic fathers—and one has a theatrical collage that floats somewhere between a Vincent Price horror flick and Charlton Heston’s rendering of Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy (with maybe a touch of Ann Radcliffe, too).

This cinematic, kaleidoscopic technique befits a character and a subject in which the miscellaneous matches the methodical. Surely one of the greatest multitasking intellectuals of all time, Matteo Ricci has faded from the meek memory of history books, owing to the scope and variety of his somewhat dispersed achievements, which ranged from cartography to astronomy to philology to diplomacy and on to evangelism, architecture, and even textiles. Complicating Ricci’s story is its extraordinary geographical reach, which extends from Italy and Portugal to India and on to multiple Chinese venues. Biographer and intellectual historian Hsia thus faces the question of structure. How can one organize a life that is not only relentlessly various and that transpires on multiple levels—from the baptizing of peasants to the conducting of palace intrigues—but also completely regular? How can one enliven a character who, despite making the world his oyster, had few personal or private life concerns, who, in taking his religious views ferociously literally, lived as if he were a righteous version of Roderick Random who had taken holy orders—a picaro who had also selflessly abandoned all the usual plans, hopes, or desires for a happy life with a gorgeous wife and a rich estate that should come at the end of his exploits?

Hsia solves the organization problem by mixing chapters focusing on the specific locales in which Ricci lived, moved, and had his being with chapters on specific personalities who defined or dominated specific intervals in his evangelistic tour. Following the opening chapter on what might be described as Ricci’s “conversion by Rome”—his transformation into an urban intellectual who suddenly sees the limits of urban life and who therefore volunteers for the Jesuits’ oriental missions, where, unbeknownst to this precocious stripling, he would become one of the greatest Christian messengers of all time—Hsia offers three chapters on, respectively, Ricci’s pre-journey Portuguese period and subsequent sea travels to India’s Goa, his initial interval in colonial Macao, and his assimilation into Chinese culture in up-and-coming Zhaoqing. In these chapters, Hsia walks a very fine—sometimes disappearing—line between the disciplined presentation of Ricci’s career and luscious storytelling. In chapter 2, which deals with Ricci’s Portuguese period and pre-Indian sea travels, Hsia is full of descriptions that waver between scholarly didacticism and travelogue. Hsia presents a fine description of later-sixteenth-century Lisbon that could easily qualify as cultural history, then presents a somewhat reconstructed account of shipboard experiences that could pass as a maritime novel. Similarly, he delivers a painterly evocation of old Goa while plunging into a more theoretical critique of the use of enslaved populations to staff Portuguese colonies. Chapter 3, which addresses Ricci’s first extended stay in the Chinese sphere of influence, combines an anecdotal, evidence-intense approach to history with the instructional techniques of the Bildungsroman to show how Ricci learned from his early Macao mishaps and exploits, whether a diplomatic blunder that led to the caning of a Buddhist monk or confrontations with mandarins or a grudging agreement to do occasional exorcisms to win the esteem of superstitious local officials. In chapter 4, Hsia again changes tone as we watch the increasingly canny Ricci devising creative approaches to Christian diplomacy. Entering the surprisingly cultivated backwater town of Zhaoqing, Ricci develops his signature hybrid approach, shaving his head so as to pass as a Buddhist monk and thereby partially overcoming his apparent foreignness. This carefully drawn study of Ricci’s Zhaoqing period includes a miniature study of Ricci’s adaptive intellectualism: an account of his ability to gain access to those at the top by exploiting oriental astonishment at Western technology, whether by gifting mandarins with copies of European world maps (which he discreetly adjusts so as to place China at the center of the world) or by bribing aristocrats with entertaining gewgaws such as tick-tock clocks and armillary spheres.

As he moves into Ricci’s most productive and most adventurous midlife phase, Hsia mixes in a chapter on a fellow Jesuit, Michele Ruggieri, the developer of the first Chinese-language catechism. Hsia, who seems fond of the Jesuit missionaries, insists on the independent significance of Ruggieri’s accomplishments, but the most compelling consequence of his activities seems to have been the solidification, in Ricci’s mind, of Ricci’s hybrid approach to East-West religious dialogue, specifically Ricci’s habit of blending Confucian wisdom with Christian theology by way of winning local followers while undermining Buddhism. Although this short study of a person prominent in Ricci’s formation and career abounds in useful and interesting information, it also marks a turning point in Hsia’s narrative: a point at which the cinematic technique of the first several chapters, in which Ricci is always popping up from a rich background, begins dissolving into anecdotal digressiveness. Chapter 6, on Ricci’s stay in Shaozhou, admittedly tells us as much about the sometimes comical misconceptions of the local people. Sometimes, anecdote replaces foreground, as occurs in the story of Qu Rukui, whose transition from would-be alchemist to votary of Western science eclipses the story of Ricci’s supervision of a record-breaking twenty-two baptisms. A fundamental turn in Ricci’s career, his shedding of his feigned identity as a Buddhist monk from the Far West in favor of a new designation as daoren or “master of the way,” appears as an afterthought behind stories providing local color.

Admittedly, Hsia faces challenges as he attempts to characterize a figure who specialized in changing his character. During his Nanchang period, recounted in chapter 7, Ricci once again reconfigured himself, this time as the “Man of the Mountain of the Great Western Region,” a title modestly suggesting a status as a rough hermit in the Chinese outback while also suggesting membership in the untitled, underappreciated literati. Hoping to seize what is probably his one chance, in a publishing world not much given to monographs on Jesuits, to tell us everything he knows about Ricci, Hsia seems unable to rank or prioritize Ricci’s achievements. One minute Ricci is dazzling interested local people with parlor tricks such as reciting long passages from the Confucian classics; the next minute he is developing a new mnemonic system for learning Chinese characters; readers never know whether Hsia values these deeds equally or differentially. Hsia also engages in a degree of psychological speculation as he attempts to mind-read Ricci: “Only the thought that young Joao was enjoying his eternal reward gave Ricci some comfort” (142)—a nice thought, but one drawn from the deep fund of veneration rather than from the treasury of evidence.

The latter chapters of Hsia’s colossal monograph achieve what Ricci himself may not have fully attained during his life: the merger of Western discourses with large tracts from the broad field of Asian wisdom literature. Reading these later chapters recalls reading either an eighteenth-century novel, with its abundance of minimally connected but seemingly purposive episodes, or a semi-narrative wisdom work such as the Confucian Analects. In chapter 8, for example, we find a long characterization of Ricci as the consummate Enlightenment-era travel writer who records all the cultural, economic, and geographical novelties encountered during long voyages; we have speculative digressions on what Ricci must have thought about Marco Polo; and we have vignettes of potentially allegorical conversations such as that between Ricci and the deposed chief eunuch Feng Bao or that between Ricci and supporters of philosopher Jiao Hong or that between Ricci and zealous Buddhist apologist Hong ’en (a report accompanied by a reconstructed dialogue between the two controversialists). The concluding decade of Ricci’s life was far less mobile than his early days, much of his last nine years having been spent within Beijing (where he was occasionally a de facto captive). Hsia has a difficult time maintaining the same pace that he set in the earlier, more picaresque chapters as the elder Ricci spends his days negotiating with upper-level bureaucrats and maintaining a steady schedule of scientific lectures. Chapter 10, for example, is largely an explication of Ricci’s The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven. Such a chapter certainly contributes to the understanding of Ricci’s attempt at an East-West fusion theology but seems somewhat out of place in the action-packed narrative that precedes it. These later chapters include more than a few stories revealing the texture of Ricci’s life, including the incredible tale of “The Evil Book” incident, a yarn more than worthy of the finest conspiracy theorists. Readers will perversely enjoy the account of Ricci’s ingenious strategies for deflecting the political blowback from a Spanish massacre of Chinese citizens in the Philippines, strategies that included his use of Jesuitical equivocation to blame dios, the Spanish god, for the odious deed while clearing the more Latinate Jesuit god, deus, from all charges. The intended intensity of reader engagement with these episodes—is Ricci’s career-culminating work on the same scale or level of importance as is his emergency-driven verbal trickery?—remains unknown.

If there is a common tone or motif or technique in this energetically comprehensive rendering of Matteo Ricci’s chameleon career, it is surely that of the cinema and the panorama. Hsia’s volume opened with a wraparound view of the vivacious cultural, intellectual, and physical world that surrounded the dazzled young Ricci; Hsia’s volume closes with a more tranquil rendering of a wizened thinker who, in his later career, lived as if he were a rotating lighthouse or projector. Old Ricci looked out over and shed light on vast panoramas that, if subjected to a zoomed view, would reveal endless details and abundant anecdotes. Living with his scientific equipment in a kind of museum of curiosities patronized by the amazed citizens of Beijing, spending most of his days writing letters to university and conventual addresses around the whirling world, Ricci spent his last years in stage-setting a world full of horizons. Artful Hsia ends his book with a moving portrait of Ricci gazing out from the walls of Beijing, viewing and reviewing the spaces of his past and of Christendom’s future. Hsia’s is a book to be experienced in just that way. Sometimes dense, sometimes gossipy, always erudite, and never locked into one space or story, it makes a high demand of readers while it confers rich rewards on those willing to go the distance. Those who finish the book will, like Ricci, look back on a vast and interesting if archaic terrain—a far-away world full of lands that will never again be seen but that will live on in story and song, a world that readers of this book, as unwitting converts to the Riccian “way,” will inadvertently convert into their own intellectual home away from home.

British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778-1829, by Michael Tomko. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011. Pp. 224. $105.00. ISBN: 9780230279513

Reviewed by Mary Ann Rooks
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.9
Cite: Mary Ann Rooks, review of British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778-1829, by Michael Tomko, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 28-30, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.9

Michael Tomko’s British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity 1778–1829 analyzes historical events, cultural anxieties, and discourse related to Parliamentary considerations of acts addressing oppressive restrictions on Catholics (leading up to and including the 1829 passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act) to demonstrate the ways Romantic-era literature participates in the period’s politically charged conversations about religious tolerance and national identity. In the years spanned by this study, tensions between Britons who viewed Catholicism as a threat to the nation and those who took pride in the nation’s progressive values led to heated disputes, political upheaval, and bloodshed. Tomko’s comprehensive biographical, historical, literary analysis delineates how the key authors in the study—Elizabeth Inchbald, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott—use fiction to proffer means of containing or moving forward from these tensions. Tomko highlights the following: (1) questions of British national identity (enmeshed in often paradoxical beliefs about religious tolerance, the valuing of England’s medieval Catholic past, enlightenment ideologies, and conceptions of progress, morality, and modernity); (2) British Romanticism’s celebrated “spirit of the age,” with its characteristic endorsement of the via media and the transformative power of the individual imagination, as informed by the hopes and failures of the French Revolution and fear of Catholicism (by some associated with primitivism, superstition, and the tyranny of the papacy); (3) the realized and continuing potential for violent eruptions attributed to religious enthusiasm (witnessed by, for instance, the Gordon Riots); and (4) the political, aesthetic, and cultural import of Romantic texts grappling with all of the above.

The introduction and first chapter adroitly set the stage for subsequent analysis of representative literary engagements with the Catholic Question in chapters two through five, and for a discussion of the reverberations of the 1929 passage of Catholic Emancipation in the conclusion. Building on a quotation from Leigh Hunt that highlights the contrast between celebrating the progress of an enlightened age and the failure of Parliament to comprehensively repeal anti-Catholic regulations (instituted by the Test and Corporation Acts), in the introduction Tomko illustrates the widespread impact of the Catholic Question, identifies key issues and tensions that inform the study, and situates his study in the field of scholarship. Divided into four sections (1778–1800, 1800–1807, 1807–1815,1815–1822), Chapter 1 uses historical markers to break down the “culture wars” surrounding sectarian tensions. Together, the segments create a detailed, carefully documented, complex portrait of the historical events and movements, important figures and polemicists, arguments and positions that inform literary and other engagements of the Catholic Question.

In his Chapter 2 analysis of Inchbald’s A Simple Story, Tomko compellingly argues that the marriage of Dorriforth and Miss Milner, part of a national tale, speaks to Protestant-Catholic tensions by offering a “model of social healing and reconciliation” (60) because the prospective pair, opposites in their personalities and backgrounds, find ways each to expand the other’s understanding and to address differences. As modeled here, the key to addressing conflicts is meeting often and talking through differences—keeping the lines of communication open—and learning to exercise sympathy, kindness, and forgiveness. In contrast, Part II of A Simple Story illustrates, in Tomko’s insightful reading, the “hardening effects of sectarianism and fundamentalism” (80) in the partitioning of the home and cruelty of Lord Elmwood. Resentment builds, and sympathy cannot penetrate it when parties do not encounter each other. Part II concludes, Tomko argues, with an open-ended optimism because Matilda and her father begin to heal wounds and practice “choosing sympathy over resentment” (85). Inchbald’s answer to the Catholic Question is, thus, not legislation, the burying of the past, or assimilation, but a recognition of mutual suffering, an acceptance of difference, and a choice to practice compassion.

Wordsworth and Shelley, Tomko points out in the third and fourth chapters, approach the Catholic Question from opposite sides and come to divergent conclusions, but both take a stance on the role of history and the function of poetry. Paying particular attention to The Excursion, Essays and Epitaphs, and Ecclesiastical Sketches, Tomko illustrates Wordsworth’s “aesthetic solution,” which promotes healing through the potentially unifying experience of regulated superstition in historically significant, often sacred, communal space. Though promoting superstition and dwelling on churches and abbeys runs the risk of raising fears of a return to papal ideologies, Wordsworth (staunchly opposed to Catholic Emancipation) mollifies this risk by, for example, consigning Catholic associations to memory and a fixed past as well as relying on Britons’ secure moral sense of sincere spirituality and longstanding national history of rejecting enthusiasm for the via media. In contrast to Wordsworth’s saturation in the past, Shelley promotes poetry that transcends historical specificity, avoiding the narrow perspective of the moment in favor of universals and the promise of stadial progress. Building on an engaging discussion of Shelley’s disappointing trip to Ireland and Irish influences in Italy, Tomko reveals in Shelley’s The Cenci a drama informed by the poet’s theoretical stance and the ambivalence he felt toward Irish Catholics after his fight to defeat religious persecution was shadowed by fears that historic grievances would not be left in the past but, instead, lead to violence. Catholics (in Italy and largely), in this line of argument, may be so mired in convention, bigotry, and corruption that they cannot embrace reform. Beatrice offers hope of transcendence in the play, with her potentially transformative gaze and opportunity to cut bonds with the society that permits her oppression and abuse. Her ultimate failure to break from the cycle of violence and the social system that supports it Tomko convincingly reads as a comment on the Catholic Question; Shelley’s support for Catholic Emancipation is evidently complicated by a conviction that emancipation is only available to those willing and able to let go of past grievances and cut ties to regressive, morally degraded social systems and religious ideologies.

Chapter 5 homes in on the tension between the Saxons, Normans, and English Jews in Ivanhoe, in which Tomko sees Scott’s exploration of the difficulties of a nation divided by tribalism. Scott, it becomes evident, uses his medieval historical tale to expose the dangers of sectarian loyalty and parochialism, particularly as buffered by shared memory of insult and injury. Despite patterns of violence and multiple setbacks in the exchanges between the particular communities, however, in this study the novel is shown to offer the hope of a new conciliatory ideal. Refining the national marriage plot, Ivanhoe and Rowena are ready to give up their historical identity (as Saxons) and embrace a new, progressive national identity; they embrace a rational, self-regulated via media. Tomko points out that this resolution is not without complications; it may reduce the impact of historic wounds and grievances, but it sacrifices to the new national ethos memories and practices that may be vital to groups’ or individuals’ particular ethos.

Throughout the text and into the last chapter, Tomko seamlessly draws together the many intersecting threads of his investigation, introduced in his first two chapters, essential to a richer understanding of select Romantic authors’ engagement of the Catholic Question. Competing conceptions of British national identity, biographical details, historical events, and cultural anxieties, and the interplay of political, literary, and other forms of cultural discourses negotiating competing ideologies, for example, richly inform his analysis of the character, plot, setting, form, aesthetic, and other choices of poets undeniably engaging in contemporary debates about religious freedom. Tomko closes the study by demonstrating that the debates in which Romantic-era poets engaged did not end with the passage of The Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. He points out, for example, that works by Edward William Cox and J. M. W. Turner celebrate a new, post-Catholic Emancipation sense of British superiority that might be seen as feeding imperialist ideologies, while authors like Coleridge and Southey warned that this kind of religious reform could create an inroad for the papacy. As is reliably gratifying of Tomko’s writing, these polar responses are balanced by another perspective, that of John Henry Newman, arguing that Romantic ideologies and Enlightenment progress might, together, translate into an irenic valuing of secular, sectarian, partisan beliefs as parts of a complexly unified, healthy community. On the whole, British Romanticism and the Catholic Question is an engaging, thoroughly researched, richly informative study that rewards readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities of the era’s religious tensions and the cultural products that engaged them.

Empiricist Devotions: Science, Religion, and Poetry in Early Eighteenth-Century England, by Courtney Weiss Smith. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2016. Pp. 288. $40.81. ISBN: 9780813938387.

Reviewed by Robin Runia
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.8
Cite: Robin Runia, review of Empiricist Devotions: Science, Religion, and Poetry in Early Eighteenth-Century England, by Courtney Weiss Smith, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 31-32, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.8

In Empiricist Devotions, Courtney Weiss Smith offers an extended examination of the premise central to the work of Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment, that the long eighteenth century was not a secular age. Her specific focus applies this premise specifically to the world of science to conclude that natural philosophy in the early eighteenth century was not secular, and that, despite its empiricist methods, it was a science founded on Christian belief. She supports this conclusion by detailing the tendency of specific natural philosophers to engage in the practice of “occasional reflection,” or, in other words, examining particulars of the natural world as representatives of Providential creation capable of providing humans moral and ethical direction. This practice, which Smith also alternately calls “occasional meditation” and “meditative empiricism” is defined by the process of analogizing human behavior according to the truths of nature God has provided as model or manual. With this observation, Smith goes on to insist on the shared methodology of poetry and natural philosophy in her examination of a number of important thinkers and writers from the period.

In Chapter 1, Smith recontextualizes Robert Boyle, detailing how his Occasional Reflections (1665) “brought together serious science and Protestant devotional techniques to forge an empiricist method for reading ‘The Book of Nature’” (33). She also argues that just as Robert Hooke’s work with microscopes led him to examine the minutia of natural phenomena, correlate, and hypothesize skeptical application, his “meditative empiricism” led him to examine, analogize, and reach provisional conclusions about Nature’s suggestions for human behavior. The contemporary popularity of this kind of thinking and writing is suggested as evidence of a revolutionary power giving individuals the power to identify truths about the natural world, the moral world, and the God who made each.

Chapter 2, “Deus in Machina” provides a fascinating reading of the debate between Isaac Newton and G. W. Leibnitz. Smith returns to this debate in order to provide a compelling alternative reading of Newton’s analogy of the clockwork world. Instead of seeing in Newton’s analogy no role for an active God, Smith examines a variety of contemporary texts that insist on comparing Newton’s observed natural laws to an active Providential force in the world. Examining works by George Berkeley and George Cheyne, as well as a poem by James Thomson, Smith argues that Newton’s particular representation of God’s corrective hand as clockmaker defined the empirical thought of natural scientists and poets alike.

In the next two chapters, “Money, Meaning and a ‘Foundation in Nature’” and “Empiricist Subjects, Providential Nature, and Social Contracts,” Smith offers an exciting glimpse of the power of interdisciplinary work. She first refutes claims that the eighteenth century’s path to modernization involved increasing abstraction and alienation of human society from the natural world. By comparing Tory and Whig writing on the coinage crisis closing the seventeenth century, Smith proves the tendency of thinkers, regardless of their political views to invoke “empirical devotion” to justify their arguments. Her subsequent analysis of it-narratives convincingly explains the power of the natural world to speak to humans and suggest moral truths. Similarly, her comparison between the social contract theorization of Lord Bolingbroke with that of Alexander Pope illustrates the shaping of poetic work by a belief in the power of Nature to inform human relations and communities. Following this with a comparison between the social contract theorization of John Locke and Daniel Defoe further insists on the need for today’s scholars to nuance traditional narratives of Whig progressivism and Tory nostalgia through nuanced close reading of texts, poetic and otherwise.

The book’s last chapter finally provides the sustained focus on poetry promised by its title. Here, Smith contextualizes georgic poetry according to its seventeenth-century roots in the agricultural manual. She traces the transition of the agricultural manual tradition and its rejection of the imaginative or poetic elements of Virgil’s Georgics to an eighteenth-century fusion of empirical meditation complete with personification, periphrases, and allusion. For Smith, georgic poetry evolved to become emblematic of the empirical meditative method. Observation of the natural world is used to analogize, in increasingly complex ways, human truths.

Ultimately, Smith provides close and compelling readings of texts often overlooked by scholars as well as alternative readings of texts often relegated to opposite disciplinary or ideological corners. Unfortunately, the book has a tendency to exaggerate some of these oppositions, failing to acknowledge the recent larger trend of the field to nuance and reconsider the narratives of modernization and secularization that had dominated eighteenth-century studies for so long. In addition, University of Virginia Press’s use of endnotes, as opposed to footnotes, exacerbates this tendency, burying much of Smith’s informed scholarly engagement between the end of her argument and her index. Nevertheless, this book provides an exemplary model of thoroughly reasoned, impeccably researched, and insightful close reading valuable to anyone interested in natural science, religion, and literature during the British Enlightenment.

Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and Its Empire: Francisco de Torrejoncillo and the Centinela contra Judíos (1674), by François Soyer. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. 346. $145. ISBN: 9789004250475.

Reviewed by Enid Valle
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.7
Cite: Enid Valle, review of Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire: Francisco de Torrejoncillo and the Centinela contra Judíos (1674), by François Soyer, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 33-35, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.7

The last few years have witnessed an increase in the number of publications in Jewish Studies that address topics in diverse disciplines, ranging from ancient art and history, to religion, to political analysis of the most recent events that have affected Jews around the world. The sensitive and ever-present question of the origin of anti-Judaism, and its related term of more recent coinage, “anti-Semitism,” is a subject that remains essential to scholarly inquiry, notably among historians and literary critics who specialize in the Iberian Peninsula. François Soyer’s volume Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire joins the best studies on Jews and Spain of the most recent decade. In it he provides an annotated English translation of Centinela contra Judíos puesta en la Torre de la Iglesia de Dios (1674), along with an introduction containing an extensive and valuable history and analysis of the work.

Centinela contra Judíos was published in 1674 in Madrid. By the end of the eighteenth century the work had gone through nine editions in Spain (1674–1736), four editions in Portuguese translation (1684–1748), and a partial publication in Mexico (1775). Its author, Francisco de Torrejoncillo, was a Franciscan friar from the southwestern region of Extremadura in Spain who in 1673 joined a missionary trip to the Philippines and remained there until his death in 1704. According to Soyer’s biographical reconstruction, the friar most likely never saw a published volume of his own work. Torrejoncillo himself acknowledged that he did not write anything new or original, but rather culled ideas and narratives from a variety of sources for his intended purpose: to serve as an ideological lookout, a sentinel in the Tower of the Church, from which to protect and defend the Catholic Church from the threat posed by conversos—Jews who, before and after the 1492 expulsion from Spain of Jews and Muslims, had been forced to convert or face persecution. Throughout the following two centuries, the converso population became sizable, and the perceived “judaizing” inclinations of those conversos became one of the Inquisition’s major concerns. As a result, between 1630 and 1730 persecution intensified. By the 1670s Torrejoncillo became convinced that “crypto-Judaism was rife amongst the conversos of Spain and Portugal” (Soyer 8) and composed the Centinela contra Judíos, which Soyer describes as “an apologia of the Inquisition and its activity against the threat of crypto-judaizing heretics” (14). Torrejoncillo believed that any Jewish ancestry in an individual, no matter how remote, meant that the converso still held secret Jewish beliefs, a widely held notion reflected in the test known as “limpieza de sangre” (“purity of blood”), which was designed to determine an individual’s heritage.

Other anti-Jewish treatises, as vitriolic as Centinela contra Judíos, had been in circulation before, but because they were not easily accessible their readership was more limited. According to Soyer, several facts make Centinela contra Judíos a volume worthy of study: this polemic/apology is the first of its kind written in vernacular Spanish (Castilian); its style and organization show that it was aimed at the lay person; and it was reasonably priced. Such factors made possible the book’s wider circulation in Spain and the colonies. According to Soyer, Centinela contra Judíos inspired a subgenre of works that not only imitated Torrejoncillo’s style but also even paid homage to the original by including the word “centinela” in their titles—to wit, the Centinela contra Franceses (1808) by the historian and politician Antonio de Capmany (Soyer, 73–74). It is befitting, then, that this influential work has now appeared in an annotated English translation and will be accessible to a wider scholarly audience.

This English translation of Centinela contra Judíos has been carefully thought out. Soyer succeeds in maintaining the tone and cadence of the original while correcting Spanish misspellings, breaking up long paragraphs, and enclosing in parentheses the Spanish translations that Torrejoncillo provided for his Latin citations. All of this, in addition to the uniformity of the typesetting, makes the English version much smoother than the Spanish original (the latter is not included in this volume but can be found online).

In this rigorous scholarly work, Soyer closely examines the scribe Torrejoncillo’s citations of multiple sources in advancing his arguments. Although many errors in those citations can be attributed to the typesetter (mistakes found in page and chapter references of sources, and in some of the sources themselves), Soyer also shows that the Centinela contra Judíos abounds in inaccuracies in chronology, the names of royalty, statistics, dates of events, and the identity of sources. For example, he elucidates how a direct reference to Eusebius was actually alluding to Gratian, whose work was cited incorrectly in Gonzalo de Illescas’s 1602 Historia pontifical, but which was correctly cited in its original 1589 edition (186, n.5).

One assumes that page limitations prevented Soyer from including, along with his substantial critical introduction to and English translation of Centinela contra Judíos, a copy of the Spanish original—an essential tool for Golden Age specialists. Even though the 1674 text is accessible via the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Spanish National Library, a bilingual edition containing the original accompanied by a comparative study of all the editions is still needed and, one hopes, forthcoming; that is to say, a critical edition in the customary way.

Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and Its Empire is a handsome hardcover volume whose cover illustration is the 1728 title page of Centinela contra judíos. Maps of Spain, Portugal and the Philippines, and color plates related to Torrejoncillo and his work stir curiosity and invite readers to study the text carefully. Scholars from various disciplines and from subfields such as Transatlantic Studies, Diaspora Studies, and Inquisitorial history, as well as nonacademic readers, would benefit greatly from the extensive and detailed historical knowledge contained in this volume. With that said, the volume suffers from typographical errors both in English and in Spanish, inconsistencies in capitalization and spelling, and recurrent grammatical mistakes. Nevertheless, this study contains a wealth of information useful for scholars in diverse fields and remains accessible and enticing to a variety of readerships.

English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, edited by Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly. London and New York: Routledge, 2013. Pp. 336. $115.47. ISBN: 9781409450733.

Reviewed by Alicia Kerfoot
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.6
Cite: Alicia Kerfoot, review of English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, edited by Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 25-27, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.6


“Who were the nuns?” asks an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded database of the same name, put in place to identify those who entered English convents abroad after the Reformation (http://wwtn.history.qmul.ac.uk). The contributing authors of English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800, who often cite the database, ask this same question with an interdisciplinary lens in place. In his essay in the collection, Geoffrey Scott gives an example of an 1807 account in which “two seventeenth-century canonesses were reputed to have descended from their portraits as ghosts” (208), while Nicky Hallett observes that the nun Mary Xaveria “represents herself almost as a ghost-writer of her own life-story” (145); both observations speak to a complicated absence-in-presence question that the collection as a whole negotiates. Questions of visibility and invisibility, authority, and narrative construction of identity, permeate all of the essays. For many English nuns in exile, more absorption in the community meant less visibility (as Marie-Louise Coolahan notes in her chapter on Irish nuns in English convents), but practices of communal authorship and cross-border politics discussed in several of the essays make clear the delicate web of influence and interconnection that was part of convent life in exile and which often reveals a complexity of identity rather than obscuring it.

In their introduction to the fourteen essays, Caroline Bowden, James E. Kelly, and Michael C. Questier note that the English convents in exile have not been well-represented in histories of the post-Reformation English Church because historians make “the assumption that if there was . . . any kind of coherent Catholic residual presence within it [the English Church], then it was by and large a hidden one” (1). Bowden and Kelly’s collection does much to correct this oversight, as it offers valuable insights into the history of English convents in exile and the ways that nuns defined themselves both in relation to their English identities and those of the countries in which they settled (9). The book is divided into four parts: “Part I: Communities”; “Part II: Culture: Authorship and Authority”; “Part III: Culture: Patronage and Visual Culture”; and “Part IV: Identity.” Part II is the most cohesive of these, while Part IV seems the most disconnected (with two essays on national identity and one on emotional identity), but this is perhaps because the question of identity is, in fact, central to the entire collection.

In Part I, James E. Kelly discusses how powerful Catholic families in Essex controlled convent recruitment and had a political impact on spiritual disputes in convents abroad (51), while Caroline Bowden looks at those who left convent communities and concludes that “the existence of candidates who failed to take solemn vows, or who left after profession” indicates that convents were managing their own membership (68). Of particular note is Elizabeth Patton’s chapter on Dorothy Arundell, which traces her “transition from an actively apostolic Catholic community . . . operating [in] . . . secrecy in Post-Reformation England—to a cloistered convent in the heart of Catholic Brussels” (20); Patton does this by reading Arundell’s Life of Cornelius in order to understand how she brought her English experience abroad. This way of reading individual and communal written works continues in Part II, which offers several excellent readings of the relationship between individual and group authorship, as well of the responses that nuns had to representations of their communities in other early modern publications. Jenna D. Lay’s analysis of Thomas Robinson’s The Anatomy of the English Nunnery at Lisbon (1622) alongside Syon Abbey’s manuscript response to his pamphlet, offers an especially convincing argument about the way that the nuns were “participants in” and “shapers of” early modern book culture rather than victims of it (73). Lay argues that if we recognize the literary techniques the nuns used to assert their agency, then “we can begin to acknowledge the myriad strategies that early modern nuns used to intervene in contemporary religious politics and thereby prevent the erasure of female intellectual engagement from the historical record” (86). This is an important argument for a collection that is attentive to the ways in which nuns’ identities have been obscured in the historical record.

In her chapter titled “Naming Names,” Victoria Van Hyning identifies the first chronicler of St Monica’s Convent, Louvain, and considers the relationship between her and “several scribes, editors and authors who perpetuated her narrative” (87). She concludes “that the nuns were primarily responsible for the authorial and editorial construction of this work” even though they worked with confessors to produce it (108). In a chapter on Mary Percy, Jaime Goodrich similarly notes that “many of the texts produced in convents were cooperative ventures” (109), and a “recognition of multiple agents allows for a fuller understanding of [Percy’s] self-presentation” (122), while Genelle Gertz considers how Barbara Constable writes her own commentary on confession in order to assert “the abbess’ authority to provide spiritual advice” yet “hides this proposal deep within the text” (124). This hidden narrative that comes to light with close reading is again addressed in Nicky Hallett’s essay on anonymous authorship, in which she uncovers how editorial practices obscured the identities of women authors: “often these women only emerge as authors at their deaths, in retrospective testimony. And it is only then we see how much they shaped the preceding narrative and the historiography surrounding it” (141).

The communal and political motivations for different forms of authorship and editorial practice are themes that continue in the essays that analyze visual culture. Elizabeth Perry’s essay offers a contextual analysis of Syon Abbey’s collaborative creation of an illuminated book charting their exile, meant for presentation to the Infanta María Anna. The illustrated pages are reproduced in color in the collection, and Perry offers analysis of the ways in which these illuminations symbolically and politically narrate the history of the convent. The essays in Part III on book-making, music and portraiture demonstrate connections across borders and time periods that remind the reader of the themes addressed in Part I of the collection, and of how convents did not exist outside of English identity in the period, but rather responded to political and spiritual needs across borders. For example, Geoffrey Scott gives an extensive survey of how portraits of English nuns were influenced by, and in turn influenced, other kinds of visual culture; this includes wax nun dolls, which he notes were “designed either as aids to prayer or as mementoes of exiled daughters” (197). These portraits are reproduced in color in the collection, and give the reader a sense of the many forms that representations of nuns took in the period under study.

In Part IV, Carmen M. Mangion picks up the thread of multifaceted identity when she discusses English convents during the French Revolution, noting that “they relied on their English identities as well as their status as French subjects to meet their objectives; they did not seem to feel a tension between [them]” (263). Mangion also observes that the “experiences of the last of the nuns in exile” need to be explored further, and calls for “the remainder of this story” to be told (263). This call, which the entire collection seems to be both repeating and responding to, is an important one for all of the nuns whose voices and ways of constructing self and community are charted so carefully by the contributors. Who were the nuns, then? This collection offers many answers to that question and does much to undermine the idea that they were anonymous ghosts in the early modern English context.

John Wesley’s Pneumatology: Perceptible Inspiration, by Joseph W. Cunningham. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. 173. $57.95. ISBN: 9781138274242.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Galbraith
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.5
Cite: Jeffrey Galbraith, review of John Wesley’s Pneumatology: Perceptible Inspiration, by Joseph W. Cunningham, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 22-24, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.5

Inspiration was cause for deep suspicion in eighteenth-century England, regarded as a threat to established religion and the social order following the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century. Jonathan Swift registered his antipathy in A Tale of a Tub (1704). Swift caricatured radical dissenters who claimed private knowledge of the divine, drawing on the Latin root of the word “inspire” to depict them as zealots who fed on air, their minds and bodies distended from pumping each other full of wind. Although such criticism reappeared with the rise of the evangelical movement, inspiration developed more favorable connotations over the course of the century. In John Wesley’s Pneumatology, Joseph W. Cunningham contributes to our understanding of this shift in his interpretive assessment of John Wesley’s writings on the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.

“Pneumatology” is a term from academic theology that refers to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the term’s first appearance in seventeenth-century metaphysics, where it referred to “spirits or spiritual beings” such as angels, demons, and, in general, the human soul (1a). Later, the term briefly became a synonym for “psychology,” reflecting the interest in the mind brought about by Lockean empiricism (1b). This history of usage, with its inflection of Enlightenment philosophy, is significant for understanding how Wesley understood his conversion experience. If Lockean empiricism supplanted the metaphysical study of the soul, Wesley appropriated the new empiricist terminology in continuing to focus on the dialogue between the human spirit and God’s spirit. In May 1738, Wesley received a palpable, spiritual sense of salvation while attending a religious meeting in Aldersgate, London. He recorded in his journal the now well-known sentence, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley would go on to explain the experience by adapting the Lockean view that knowledge was the result of input from the bodily senses. Just as, for Locke, natural birth marked the moment in which the physical senses began to operate, so for Wesley did spiritual birth mark the moment in which a person was given spiritual senses with which to gather sense impressions of the divine. As he explained in An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (1743), “Faith, according to the scriptural account, is the eye of the new-born soul.” Inward feelings of warmth and joy accompanied this new knowledge as the means of assuring an individual of his or her salvation.

Cunningham draws on sermons, pamphlets, and journal entries to offer a more coherent assessment of Wesley’s account of spiritual sensation. The result of this synthesis, he argues, is to clarify Wesley’s value for current postfoundationalist theology. The monograph begins by showing Wesley’s contribution to a pamphlet exchange with the pseudonymous “John Smith,” which was most likely the pseudonym of Thomas Secker, then Bishop of Oxford. Like many Latitudinarian clergy, “Smith” held the cessationist view that, unlike in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit no longer communicated directly to the individual. Subsequent chapters build a case for Wesley’s challenge to rationalist epistemology. In chapter 2, “Grace as Pneumatological Operation,” Cunningham uses Wesley’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit to explain how God acts in the world. Grace, for Wesley, is a “prevenient” gift that works before the experience of conversion, such that “wherever goodness, charity and devotion to God are present, so too is the Spirit’s power” (46). In chapter 3, “Faith as Pneumatological Operation,” Cunningham explores the implications of pneumatology for thinking about faith. For Wesley, “[t]he Spirit empowers us to know God and imbues us with basic epistemic and moral faculties” (63). If, for Wesley, faith is a faculty of knowing that goes beyond reason, pneumatology is essential for understanding how faith is generated in the believer.

Whereas these chapters largely focus on the explication of key passages in Wesley’s writings, the fourth chapter is more interpretive in its method, examining how Wesley developed his claims about the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit over the course of his life. Cunningham shows that, although Wesley continued to emphasize the possibility of direct spiritual encounter, he was forced to qualify his claims in response to what he regarded as abuses and misunderstandings. Such was the challenge presented by the Maxfield-Bell controversy of the early 1760s, when two Methodist preachers prophesied that the end of the world was nigh. Cunningham draws an instructive distinction between Wesley’s understanding of the direct and indirect witness of the Spirit. Whereas the direct witness relies on subjective apprehension of inward feeling, the indirect witness is “a posterior cognitive response” mediated through reason, which “serves to confirm one’s religious experience through conscience and holy living” (80). As a form of self-awareness or reflexivity, the indirect witness of the Spirit helps to understand how “perceptible inspiration” involves much more than a moment-to-moment awareness of physical emotion. The fifth chapter, “The Fruits of the Spirit as Pneumatological Operation,” contributes to this understanding by examining Wesley’s pneumatology in light of the turn to virtue ethics. Scholars interested in Wesley’s approach to ethics have tended to focus on the account of perfect love, which the Methodist preacher regraded as the telos of the Christian life. Cunningham argues convincingly, however, that the Spirit’s prior, progressive influence on affect and disposition is more relevant for understanding Wesley’s approach to virtue. Cunningham’s language in this chapter reveals his interest in providing a more solid ground for Wesleyan pneumatology than what is suggested by the emphasis on inward feeling. The believer must sense God’s love but also practice it. Love becomes a process in which one “cultivates” practical wisdom, so that it “takes root in one’s heart and life” (115). This view of love “gives pragmatic steel to [Wesley’s] doctrine of Christian perfection or perfect love” (emphasis mine, 116). For Cunningham, the strange warmth experienced by Wesley at Aldersgate takes concrete, tangible shape in the form of the virtues known as the “fruits of the Spirit.”

Whereas Wesley’s writings are often regarded as pastoral in nature, John Wesley’s Pneumatology seeks to provide a theological interpretation of Wesley’s views on participating with God through the Holy Spirit. Cunningham meets this modest interpretive goal, though one wishes that he had done more to explain the relevance of Wesley’s epistemology for current academic conversations. Cunningham provides ample evidence for the claim that Wesley’s account of “direct religious experience challenges the very structure of knowledge itself as defined by foundationalist prescriptions for what makes a noetic structure rational” (104). Yet, given the wide swath cut by such a claim, we are left to wonder how the account of “perceptible inspiration” may illuminate specific debates in current academic theology. Many readers will perhaps find it sufficient, as Cunningham desires, to have gained from John Wesley’s Pneumatology a consistent, coherent, and more clearly drawn account of Wesley’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England, by Kathryn Gray. Bucknell University Press, 2015. Pp. 192. $44.99. ISBN: 9781611486919.

Reviewed by Brian Fehler
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.4
Cite: Brian Fehler, review of John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England, by Kathryn N. Gray, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 17-19, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.4.

Scholars in fields such as colonial American history and literature, religious studies, and rhetoric will welcome Kathryn N. Gray’s John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England. Eliot is best known to history as the “Apostle to the Indians,” a colonial missionary in New England, one who used his voice and sermons to persuade the Native population. Eliot was also a man of letters, one who used his pen to write letters to correspondents across the Atlantic and produce a grammar and Bible in the Massachusett language.

The first chapter of the book, “Private Petitions and Transatlantic Discursive Communities,” tells the story of Eliot’s correspondence with his patrons and supporters in England. Gray argues that “the promotional agenda of Eliot’s first surviving letter [of 1633] reveals something of the man who would go on to spend around fifty years of his life tirelessly promoting his missionary cause by petitioning friends, clergymen, and patrons in England for sufficient money and goods to allow him to devote his time to the conversion of Algonquins to Christianity” (3). Many of Eliot’s letters during those long years of correspondence were published as tracts, especially those written to the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel. In these published letters, especially, Gray persuasively argues, Eliot invented the image of the “praying Indian” an entirely “new cultural type” (22). The image of the praying Indian helped Eliot convince his readers that New England was, in fact, a fertile ground for conversions. The rhetorical power of the image of the praying Indian, as employed by Eliot, is convincing and adds to our understanding of Eliot’s rhetorical skill.

Chapter 2, “Dedicated Dignitaries and the Christian Reader,” presents, in its most fascinating parts, a picture of the work that took place between Natives and those colonials who took down in writing the Native oral religious confessions. Missionaries to the Indians, not only Eliot, realized that the Natives’ words needed to be presented in such a way that supporters were likely to be compelled by the accounts. Thus, Gray writes, the interpreters’ “own ideological motives are often thinly veiled by their apparent objectivism, and the written words become part of a cultural performance” (41). The cultural performance of a similar or different kind, of course, could certainly be traced back to the oral performance of the praying Indian, but Gray rightly recognizes the special performative nature of the written narratives.

Chapter 3, “Speech, Space, and Religious (Re-)Affirmation,” continues the discussion of speech acts, here with attention to the spaces, such as churches, and their relationship to speech etiquette. When Eliot spoke at the Cambridge Synod, an institution itself that was a “powerful and controversial feature of religious and civil governance in New England,” Natives were invited to listen (64). During these times, listeners were permitted to question the speaker, and agency was “given over to the Algonquin participants as they are granted the right to challenge and question their colonial interlocutor” (64). Other spaces, such as penitents’ own homes, provided less formal speech opportunities, yet Gray shows that the coming together of colonials and Natives in particular spaces shaped the interactions that occurred in those spaces.

In Chapter 4, Gray turns her attention, as the title suggests, to “Christian Indian Women in Seventeenth-Century New England.” In the accounts Eliot wrote of Native conversions, women were unnamed, but, as Gray writes, the “influence of women over their families’ faith is notable from the earliest of Eliot’s accounts of tribal life” (91). Gray shows that women had influence in their roles as mothers and healers, even though their conversion accounts were not recorded as often as those of the men of the tribe. Still, Eliot did give more than occasional attention to the work of the women, including providing in a letter an eyewitness account of one Christian Indian woman during the crisis of King Philip’s War. Gray successfully shows that, though “voices of Christian Indian women are buried deeply in the documents, letters, and narratives of colonial ministers and missionaries,” they appeared nonetheless (116). Gray especially contributes to our understanding of Eliot’s mission by showing that “women were consciously constructed as a separate and influential reception community for his religious teachings” (116). Women needed to accept his missionary message, Eliot rightly supposed, for his conversion efforts to be successful; therefore, Eliot “courted” the “unique influence” of women on the life of the mission (116).

In the last chapter, “A Reading Community,” Gray takes up the topic of Native literacy. Noting that some Natives attended school and others had developed a system of marks, Gray writes: “From the academic excellence of the college students to the marks of Narragansett leaders, the spectrum of literacy in Native communities in the Massachusetts Bay area was great indeed” (123). Natives had various opportunities to learn to write in English or their own language: using Eliot’s grammar as a guide, working as scribes, even attending Harvard’s Indian College. Gray effectively shows that the Native writers, once able to communicate in text and print, eventually learned to control their own messages; though John Eliot represented the praying Indians in his own writings for decades, they would eventually be able to take up the pen for themselves and in increasing numbers.

Kathryn N. Gray’s John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay provides a fresh insight into this famous missionary’s work. By concentrating on the communities involved in the mission work—his own religious peers in New England, sponsors in England, Native men and women—Gray allows us to appreciate the varied rhetorical negotiations achieved in each case. In doing so, Gray presents us with an Eliot who emerges as a skilled orator in New England, as we already knew, but also a persuasive writer who kept his varied audiences firmly in mind.

Textual Warfare and the Making of Methodism, by Brett McInelly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 256. $20.00. ISBN: 9780198708940.

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.3
Cite: Kathryn Duncan, review of Textual warfare and the making of Methodism, by B. McInelly, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 17-19, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.3.

Using a balanced mixture of canonical and non-canonical texts, Brett McInelly argues that the dialectical relationship between textual attacks on Methodism and Methodist responses did much to form the Methodist movement itself. While other studies have documented this “warfare,” as the title calls it, McInelly’s work moves beyond cataloging and historicizing to make a rhetorical argument based upon the theories of Kenneth Burke, thereby contributing new insight. The book clearly will appeal to those interested in Methodism, but it does not assume such a specialized audience, offering context, description, and definitions all while assiduously historicizing. Historians, literary scholars, rhetoricians, and sociologists all will find the text approachable and persuasive.

In his introduction, McInelly notes he will cover the period of 1732, the date of the first known printed account attacking Methodism, to 1791, the year of John Wesley’s death, as Wesley was both Methodism’s most important leader and most prolific defender of it in print. McInelly lays out typical eighteenth-century attacks against Methodism through a reading of the most extended fictional critique of Methodism: Richard Graves’s nearly 1,000-page work The Spiritual Quixote (1773). The most prevalent concerns for Graves were enthusiasm and itinerant preaching since both—particularly as combined in Methodism—held the potential to create a revolutionary movement designed to undermine the stable social order of the eighteenth century. The opening of the book also states McInelly’s central (and insightful) questions: “To what extent and in what ways did the anti-Methodist literature influence perceptions of the revival? In what ways did this literature shape Methodist religiosity and self-understanding?” (10).

Chapter 1, “Print Culture and the Making of Methodism,” lays the foundation for the rest of the book, describing the textual warfare as an attempt by anti-Methodists and Methodists to own the discourse describing the movement. McInelly states explicitly at the beginning of this chapter “that Methodism in the eighteenth century was experienced largely through conflict and the printed word” (24) and argues that Methodism ironically flourished thanks to the printed attacks against it. In addition to a thorough review of secondary literature, this chapter, like all others, engages with a wide range of primary texts as it explores the attempts by detractors to define the terms of the debate and Methodist refusal to be defined by detractors. The term “Methodist” itself is a prime example since critics coined it as a pejorative label while Wesley chose to embrace the name. This kind of thinking led to Methodists seeing themselves as a unified group under attack and feeling confirmed in their beliefs as a persecuted people. In addition, writing and reading were central means of creating a Methodist identity, once again a problematic aspect of the movement as it spread literacy among the poor.

“Rhetoric and Revival,” the next chapter, invokes Burke to frame Methodism as a rhetorical problem since Methodists wrote both to persuade others of their legitimacy and to confirm themselves in their beliefs. McInelly argues that “the appeal of Methodism rested, in large part, on what Burke refers to as an experience of symbolic identification, an inter-subjective experience in which individuals see themselves in and through the language of others” (64). Methodists used writing to create a sense of identification, something especially important for a mystical religious movement that relied so much on personal experience of spirituality. Reading accounts of fellow Methodists created community as well as serving as an affirmation of faith.

In “Performing the Revival,” McInelly extensively reads Samuel Foote’s play The Minor, an important critique given the genre, both because it reached a wide audience and because of the anti-theater stance of Methodism. What Foote demonstrated is that even as Methodists condemned theater going, its leaders appropriated theatricality to persuade. This was particularly true of George Whitefield, the object of satire in The Minor. Once again, such attacks did nothing to undermine Methodist community but rather confirmed members in their belief that they were, like early Christians, enduring persecution for their faith.

The fourth chapter treats hymn singing, another Methodist practice that invited scorn because of its bent toward what was perceived as enthusiastic: Methodists singing with great exuberance religious lyrics to popular songs. At the same time, John and Charles Wesley tried to use the Methodist hymnal to negotiate charges of enthusiasm and to check individual responses with group singing that coordinated emotional experiences. McInelly claims that the Methodist hymnal shaped Methodist experience unlike any other discourse of the time with the singing of hymns often becoming the moment of spiritual conversion.

The most damning charge against Methodism, sexual promiscuity, serves as the subject of Chapter 5. Critics accused Methodists of confusing spiritual and sexual impulses thanks to the enthusiastic, visceral nature of the religion; of Methodist leaders using their powerful rhetorical techniques to seduce women; and of forming improper relationships due to the close, soul-searching relationships Methodists formed. Contrarily, attackers accused Methodists of refusing sex to their spouses, thereby undercutting family structure; Wesley did, in fact, encourage celibacy. Of course, the discourse surrounding sexuality involved debates over women’s roles in the family and culture at large, particularly because Methodist women were active leaders in the movement. McInelly also grants that the physicality of the conversion experience and intimate Methodist meetings invited the charges of sexuality.

The book’s last chapter deals with the threat within, examining infighting over predestination with an extensive reading of Humphry Clinker. Both Wesley, who argued against predestination, and Whitefield, who argued for it, attempted to situate themselves within Church of England orthodoxy. Wesley feared the doctrine of predestination opened Methodists to accusations of antinomianism so that by carefully and publicly separating himself from Whitefield and Calvinist Methodists on this issue, he actually allied himself with Methodism’s critics. For the most part, Wesley’s attempts to distinguish his version of Methodism failed because the general public saw little difference between Wesley’s and Whitefield’s ideas. An exception is Humphry Clinker, in which the eponymous hero’s virtues align him with Wesleyan Methodism (with an emphasis on good works) while the critiques of Methodism (such as the doctrine adopted by Tabitha) are aimed at the Calvinist branch. Like the attacks aimed from the outside, doctrinal infighting, McInelly argues, served to cohere the Methodist movement.

McInelly’s conclusion emphasizes that Methodism is a product of print culture. He notes, “Even though Methodists represented less than 1 per cent of the total population during Wesley’s lifetime, print media gave readers a different impression entirely” (216). The print war exaggerated the threat of Methodism while providing a cohesion that could not have existed without it.

An impressive bibliography closes a book that will surely be seminal in Methodist studies yet accessible to readers less familiar with the religious movement. Textual Warfare is a well-researched and carefully argued work that will benefit all scholars interested in social movements, print culture, and rhetoric.