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'George Whitefield, John Wesley, and the Rhetoric of Liberty'

O'Brien, Glen (2018) 'George Whitefield, John Wesley, and the Rhetoric of Liberty'. In: New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press / Rowman & Littlefield, Vancouver / London and Lanham, MD, pp. 105-128. ISBN 978-1-68393-161-4

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Abstract

George Whitefield died on September 30, 1770, during an attack of asthma and was widely mourned throughout British America. Five years later, a Revolutionary chaplain and several officers opened his casket in Newburyport, Massachusetts. They removed his clerical collar and wrist bands, cut them into strips, and distributed the pieces among the soldiers, thus taking Whitefield with them into battle. That Whitefield’s clerical insignia could somehow embolden American troops in their fight against perceived tyranny is an indication of the high regard in which he was held in America and of his iconographic status during the American Revolution.

Superficially, Whitefield seems an unlikely candidate for such a status. A priest of the Church of England who always preached in full clerical dress and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Hanoverian monarchy seems hardly the type to be appropriated by the republican cause. Whitefield died before the American Revolution, but he very closely identified with America and American interests during his seven preaching tours there. This contrasts with the more negative attitude toward the American cry for liberty on the part of Whitefield’s friend John Wesley. Whitefield was an American personality in a way that Wesley was not. This paper will attempt to compare and contrast the views on political liberty of these two Methodists in the hope of shedding further light on our understanding of the religious aspects of the Revolution.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Additional Information: 'The Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century philosophical and cultural movement that swept through Western Europe, has often been characterized as a mostly secular phenomenon that ultimately undermined religious authority and belief, and eventually gave way to the secularization of Western society and to modernity. To whatever extent the Enlightenment can be credited with giving birth to modern Western culture, historians in more recent years have aptly demonstrated that the Enlightenment hardly singled the death knell of religion. Not only did religion continue to occupy a central pace in political, social, and private life throughout the eighteenth century, but it shaped the Enlightenment project itself in significant and meaningful ways. The thinkers and philosophers normally associated with the Enlightenment, to be sure, challenged state-sponsored church authority and what they perceived as superstitious forms of belief and practice, but they did not mount a campaign to undermine religion generally. A more productive approach to understanding religion in the age of Enlightenment, then, is to examine the ways the Enlightenment informed religious belief and practice during the period as well as the ways religion influenced the Enlightenment and to do so from a range of disciplinary perspectives, which is the goal of this collection. The chapters document the intersections of religious and Enlightenment ideas in such areas as theology, the natural sciences, politics, the law, art, philosophy, and literature.'
Repository Version: Metadata Only
Keywords: George Whitefield, John Wesley, Eighteenth-Century History, Political Philosophy, The American Revolution, Political Liberty, Methodist History
Fields of Research: 21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society
Type of Activity: Pure Basic Research
Subjects: C - Church History
A - Humanities, general
College/Association with University of Divinity: EBC: Eva Burrows College
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Rev Associate Professor Glen O'Brien
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2018 01:54
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2018 01:54
URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/3345

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