Transatlantic communications communications and literature in the religious revivals, 1735-1745

Durden, Diane Susan

American studies
April 1978

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© 1978 Diane Susan Durden. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The religious revivals of the mid-eighteenth century in America, Scotland, Wales, England, and parts of Continental Europe have attracted a growing number of historians during the last ten years, and have been recognized as mass movements heralding a new type of religious life. Having begun their questioning within national and denominational frameworks, attempting to determine the significance of the revivals on these levels, students have subsequently looked to detailed local and regional studies to provide new insights into the nature, cause and meaning of the revivals.

The thesis is an attempt to move in the opposite direction: to establish the revivals not as local or regional, nor even denomination or national phenomena but as international, involving the whole of the Protestant world during the middle three decades of the eighteenth century. It does not set out to explain why these events occurred simultaneously over a wide area, nor to give a history of intellectual developments in Western Europe and America. Rather, it seeks to establish through an examination of the personal connections and links between revivalists in each country, that they were all part of the same phenomenon. It seems necessary to assert the supranationalism of this religious resurgence before it becomes lost in the detail of local explanation. From the English angle, the neglect of transatlantic revivalism is easily explained by the fact that John Wesley did not participate in it. This makes the connections more, not less interesting, because they throw light in the evangelical alternatives to Wesleyan Methodism. Such a study is also of value for the understanding of nineteenth century Nonconformity throughout the Protestant world.

The method employed in establishing the connections between revivalism is necessarily intricate and laborious. It involves working out the evangelical personnel and relationships within and between each country, and energy which has been spent tracking these down has been given at the expense of detailed understanding of national histories.

The arrangement of the thesis reflects the importance of literature, and in particular, the evangelical magazine, in the relationship and contact between revivalists. After a background chapter designed to show the state of the various denominations before the revival, Chapters III, IV and V deal exclusively with the revival literature and cornrnunications of a transatlantic nature. This is then followed by first a general, and then a detailed chapter attempting to draw out the significance of this transatlantic dimension through comparisons.

The materials for establishing the transatlantic contacts were not easy to come by. Only the evangelical magazines provided a consolidated body of material for study, the rest has been discovered as a result of a sustained search in miscellaneous letter collections in Britain and America, as well as in the records of the denominations involved in the revival.

In quoting from contemporary material I have updated, the spelling, punctuation and capitals and have followed the dating system of the reformed calendar.

Department of American Studies, The University of Hull
Billington, Louis
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