Religious Networks, Alliances, and Friendship in the Early Modern Atlantic World

AHA Session 109
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Los Angeles Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ned C. Landsman, Stony Brook University
John Fea, Messiah College

Session Abstract

This session addresses the extent and meaning of religious networks, alliances and friendship in the early modern Atlantic world.   It does this by examining a variety of Protestant communities:  Pietists and Quakers in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Europe, the Dutch Reformed of colonial New York, and Baptists and Methodists in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America.  By investigating religious networks, these papers seek to understand the meanings of social relations within these different denominational communities organized by belief, godparentage, and friendship.  These networks generated connections among co-religionists within confessional communities, across regional boundaries, and beyond national borders.  In the first paper, Rosalind Beiler seeks to understand the meaning of the term “friend” among those who sought to reform and unite the Protestant Christian church at the turn of the seventeenth- to eighteenth-century.  Historians of early modern Europe have argued for close connections between religious confessions (or established churches) and the state.  German Pietists and English Quakers, however, demonstrated strong missionary impulses as they identified others who shared common religious ground.  They crossed confessional, political, linguistic, social, and gender boundaries as they established networks of correspondents.  In their efforts to break down institutional divides and unite the “true” church, they crafted circles of friends who lent assistance in everything from spreading the gospel to acting as translators and lending aid to travelers in foreign lands.  As they sought to bring together people from a wide variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, these seekers used friendship to define those they thought interested in joining their efforts. In contrast to this eclectic mix, Edward Tebbenhoff studies religious and social alliances among Dutch Reformed parishioners in colonial New York. Specifically looking at social connections built upon baptismal sponsorship, Tebbenhoff shows how these relationships, created within religious institutional settings, became an engine of community building in early Schenectady.  Taking his cue from early modern European scholars’ investigation of the role of godparents, he reconstitutes family, social, and religious networks to better understand how social relationships formed around the sacrament of baptism as well as its impact on shaping community and family life in early New York.  Lastly, Janet Moore Lindman investigates spiritual friendship among eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century American evangelicals.  Like German Pietists and English Quakers, American Baptists and Methodists defined friendship as a spiritual connection among likeminded Protestants.  As a primary relationship, spiritual friendship became increasingly important as a means of social rapport and intimacy among fellow believers. It served as a conduit of faith as evangelicals relied on their spiritual friends to bolster their convictions.  At the same time, the practice of spiritual friendship created networks across Protestant communities in colonial America, and, by the end of the eighteenth century, it became an important factor in perpetuating Protestant denominationalism.  As with baptismal sponsorship in colonial New York, friendship created alliances that strengthened institution building and denominational affiliation among American evangelicals by the nineteenth century.   This panel will appeal to those interested in religious history, spirituality, and denominationalism from the 17th to the 19th centuries. 


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