Friday, 11 June 2010

Writing about Calvin's legacy in Wales

Well, with all the exam and marking responsibilities done and dusted for another academic year, its back to the full-time research and writing for the summer. It feels like a lovely long stretch ahead at the minute, but with a trip to the US and some holiday time too, it'll go quickly enough and it'll be September before I blink, and then the students will be back . . .

First up is a chapter for a book which explores some of the ways in which Christians during the nineteenth century appealed to and made use of the sixteenth-century Reformation. I'm trying to write about some of the intra-Calvinist debates that engulfed much of Welsh nonconformity in the early decades of the nineteenth century, as different variants of Reformed orthodoxy each tried to lay claim to be the genuine heirs of John Calvin. At the minute I'm exploring the influence of John Elias, the Calvinistic Methodist leader, who attempted to stem the flow away from stricter more traditional interpretations of Calvinism. I'm trying to read some of his correspondence, some of which has appeared in print in the past, and some of which is still available in manuscript form in the National Library of Wales. The problem is that much of it is infuriatingly vague and barely discusses theological matters! But I also want to try and do a little more with the article and place Elias and the Welsh Calvinist debates in a slightly wider context too, certainly an American, if not also an European context, seeing as similar debates were occurring in many other countries also at the same time.

To this end I've just been reading a new book of essays on Calvin's influence in the United States. Thomas J. Davis (ed.), John Calvin's American Legacy (New York: OUP, 2010). The book seems to have come out of the Calvin conference in Geneva that I attended last year. There are some excellent chapters in it. Davis' introduction is very useful and unravels some of the many Calvin myths that are out there in the popular imagination. I've been reading Douglas Sweeney's chapter very closely; he looks at the contest over Calvinism in nineteenth century America, as the Princetonian defenders of 'traditional' Calvinism took on newer expressions of Reformed theology in the shape of the Mercerberg theology and the New Haven theology. Its a really useful article as some of the same ideas were circulating in Wales; the trans-Atlantic dimension in Welsh nonconformity has been overlooked, largely because it has been assumed that the Welsh language insulted many in Wales from external theological influences. That was far from being the case. So I'm hoping to explore some of these issues in a bit of depth in this article, but its early stages yet!

There's lots of other good material in the book too, include some chapters that deal with more contemporary expression of Calvinism in America. Davis himself also appears to be quite taken with Marilynne Robinson, and offers a useful, if far too short, reflection on her interpretation of Calvinism and its American legacy that figures so prominently in her two novels, Gilead (2004) and Home (2008).

I also thought it was time that the blog received a little bit of a revamp. Blogger have just launched a new range of more interesting templates, so its goodbye to the tulips for a little while at least . . . .

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