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The New History of Methodism
Gender, emotion, medicine, electricity, ecology, literacy, rhetoric—these terms are a little thin in the indices of the standard books on John Wesley and the history of Methodism. More typical would be doctrinal entries ("Christian perfection") or intellectual references ("Epistemology, John Locke") or sources from church history ("Homilies, Pseudo-Macarian"). But if the books reviewed for this essay are any indication, a new interdisciplinary exploration of the history of Methodism is underway and more room will need to be made in future indices. There will need to be space for "dreaming" after "deism" and for "electrotherapy" before "evangelical." Somewhere after "lay preaching," the typesetter will need to find spots for "Leyden Jar" and "literacy practices" too. It seems that religion is integral to more of life in the 18th century than we once thought.
Methodism is a good proving ground for testing the extent to which the modernity of the 18th century was essentially secular. The literary remains of the early Methodist movement in books, pamphlets, and manuscripts are considerable, and much of this is now readily available in critical editions. Moreover, digital collections, such as the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO, pronounced "echo" for the cognoscenti), have opened the rare books of the world's libraries to the humble scholar working on Methodism at home in his or her pajamas with a cup of coffee beside the computer. This newly accessible material includes a wide range of texts by lay men and women. The availability of reliable sources and the new capacity to search across this whole corpus, or to dig down into it more deeply, is at least part of what allows scholars probe early Methodism in fresh ways. For those willing to travel and to work in the archives, there is more material yet. Taken as a whole, the literature of Methodism offers a nice crosssection of 18th-century society, including its middle and lower orders, and it is open for ...