Interview with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe; Editors of the Forthcoming “Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment”

EdwardsStudies is talking today with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe, editors of the new collaborative project, Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment, which is now collecting chapter proposals for a future book with V&R. 

This is a pretty cool gig. How did you guys land this job as the editors for this project?

JTL: The credit goes to Daniel. While we had both tossed around the idea of putting a writing project together, it was him who proposed the idea to the directors at the Edwards Center at Yale, Ken Minkema and Harry Stout, for this to be part of the “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards” series. Daniel and I wrote a proposal together, gained the support from the series editors, and from Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, and have hit the ground running since then.

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The title kind of sounds like a Star Wars thing. Is this a Jedi vs. Sith concept, and if so, were you inspired by the new movie Rogue One? 

JTL: Somewhat. Daniel and I are both Star Wars fans. While this volume is to focus on broad aspects of Edwards and the Enlightenment, we want it to touch areas where scholarship has either been previously assumed or unexplored entirely. Most of the time we only hear about one side of Edwards. Sometimes readers forget there were “dark” aspects of his life and context. For example, he was pro-slavery, he had to deal with ideas of witchcraft, and his world was full of violence.

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Alright, so remind us what the Enlightenment was, how long it lasted, and why it is significant to Jonathan Edwards. 

JTL: In short, and by broad definition, the Enlightenment took place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was period where areas of science, medicine, philosophy, politics, and others underwent drastic changes. Some say it marked the beginning of modernity in the Western world. The Enlightenment needs to be understood with Edwards because it was part of his context. While Edwards was trained in a medieval tradition, his thought is the expression of both his Puritan heritage and Enlightenment influence. He is the synthesis of both the old and new worlds, and influential to the development of evangelical and American identity.

What is it like studying with Ken Minkema?

DG: Studying with Dr. Minkema (or Ken as he insists being called) has been a great experience. So far I have had the opportunity to study Jonathan Edwards, American Puritans, early modern witchcraft, and the Christian colonization of the Americans under him. He is a great teacher and a fantastic scholar. He is also very personable. When we aren’t talking about Edwards, the conversation usually turns to Bob Dylan. He and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale are both treasures. As a student, he is the type of scholar-teacher I want to emulate in my own career.

Where did you originally get the idea for this work, that is, to focus on Edwards and the Enlightenment?

DG: I got the idea for this volume from a seminar I took at Yale on the Enlightenment with Dr. Sophia Rosenfield. One of the challenges we kept facing and one of the questions were kept asking was: what is the legacy of the Enlightenment? Typically scholarship has viewed the Enlightenment as a part of the triumphal progress of humanism, reason, democracy, science, etc. But after engaging texts by Foucault (Discipline and Punish) and Sala-Molins (Dark Side of the Light), just to name two, this narrative was not so easily upheld. We have Enlightenment thinkers being complicit in the Atlantic slave trade, we have others thinking of new ways to control the populous, and others appealing to authoritarianism as the better means to govern. What got me thinking about Edwards and the “dark side” of the Enlightenment was his role in Indian missions and his ownership of slaves. It is clear that Edwards believes converting and ‘civilizing’ the Native Americans are one in the same. It was uncomfortable truths like this that got me thinking about the most uncomfortable elements of Edwards’s life, theology, and legacy. Sometimes, Edwards scholars are too romantic in their approach to Edwards and push things they don’t like to the side. We didn’t want to do that with this volume. Not that this book is an indictment of Edwards, rather, it will be designed to help scholars and students further contextual Edwards and situate Edwards within the Enlightenment. This includes the Enlightenment’s dark side.

John, tell us a little bit about your interest in JE. How did you get started? 

JTL: I was first exposed to Edwards during college—it was more of a hobby. It wasn’t until graduate school when I became a serious reader of Edwards. After reading Andrew Fuller (a later Edwardsean), I noticed he relied heavily on Edwards’ writings. Chris Chun’s The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller connected my two interests and I was hooked.

And Daniel, how did you originally get interested in studying JE?

DG: Being an Australian and a former Anglican, I had never heard of Jonathan Edwards. If I recall correctly, I first encountered Edwards in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces of all places. But when I began to study American religious history, I learned about Edwards and his role in the First Great Awakening. Coming to Yale, it was in Dr. Stout and Dr. Kinkema’s “Jonathan Edwards and the American Puritans” class that I really got bitten by the Edwards bug. I could not believe how much had been written on him! Over the summer break, I took a summer course on “Edwards and the Bible,” where I met John, and it was amazing to see how many people Edwards still brings together. Studying with Skip (Dr. Stout) and Ken (Dr. Minkema) makes it easy to see why people become Edwards junkies. He unavoidable in American religious history and once you start really engaging with his life and thought, he is hard to escape!

If we were interviewing Edwards today, do you think he would have described the Enlightenment as a positive development? 

JTL: I’m always hesitant to suggest Edwards would have done “this” or “that.” But I think he would have seen the Enlightenment as a positive movement. Although he would have undoubtedly seen something like Unitarianism as appalling, Edwards wouldn’t have viewed reason in of itself as something “bad.” Modern views of the Enlightenment see faith and reason pitted against one another, but for Edwards, everything existed in one realm and he probably would have seen the oncoming areas of knowledge as revelation and as aids to explain experience.

Same question Daniel, do you think Edwards would have thought of the Enlightenment as a good thing, or a great challenge to the Puritan/Colonial status quo?

DG: The Enlightenment was not a monolithic movement (if you can even call it a movement), but there were certain things about it Edwards championed. More knowledge about the world meant more knowledge about God and his providence, better education meant more people could read and understand the Bible, and more rationalism could further damage the ‘superstitious’ beliefs associated with popery. Yet there were things Edwards would have been horrified about, particularly how key Enlightenment thinkers began to embrace deism and atheism. Something like Thomas Jefferson’s Bible would have enraged him. And because the Enlightenment is often credited for being integral to the ‘age of revolutions,’ a question John and I love discussing is whether or not Edwards would have supported the American Revolution. Because the Enlightenment was not a single thing, we should not expect Edwards to have a single response.

What kinds of chapters are you hoping to receive for publication in this new book? Tell us about the range of suggested topics you released.

JTL: A few of the suggested topics are: political economy and the expansion of trade and/or capitalism; language, epistemology and the organization of knowledge; human rights, and thinking about war and peace; slavery and the question of racism; the place of women in the home and in the church; international relations; the social hierarchy; hysteria, superstition, and pseudo-science; poverty and the marginal of society; anthropocentrism and ecological dominance; Native Americans and colonialism; British imperialism; etc. Topics unnamed here are welcomed as well. These areas are not new to historians, or theologians, but we hope to this project brings new ideas once Edwards is in the mix.

How many contributors are you expecting in this collaboration, and what kind of backgrounds (education, experience) do you expect possible writers to bring to the table? 

JTL: We are expecting a dozen or so contributors with a wide range of backgrounds. We’re hoping to see more new names and fresh ideas brought to this effort. This isn’t geared to a specific audience, but to all readers of Jonathan Edwards. We’d like a variety of scholars to participate—fresh academics to seasoned researchers. To that end, graduate students as well as experienced Edwards scholars are encouraged to make submissions.

You are working on some stuff related to Edwards and witchcraft. Give us a teaser of what you are developing.

DG: The main element of my research is similar to that of Owen Davies and Paul Kléber Monod in which I argue that the Enlightenment and the dawning of the eighteenth century did not end belief in witches and witchcraft. For a long time, scholarship has been dominated by the model championed by Keith Thomas’s Magic and the Decline of Religion, in which it was believed magical thinking and witchcraft belief died out because of modern rationalism. But there is plenty of evidence to challenge this. People (mostly women) throughout the American colonies in the eighteenth century were still being accused of witchcraft and sometimes, they were even still executed. Yale College own both Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus and Hutchinson’s A Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft. To be sure, belief in witchcraft and understandings in how witches operated had changed, but they had not vanished. Edwards was, I argue, a part of this changing landscape and is a good model to see how some of these changing beliefs took place. While Edwards was not a philosopher on witchcraft or a witch hunter in any sense, he did believe in witches and witchcraft, as evidenced by his writings.

Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers? 

JTL: Book recommendations?! I might have too many. But if I had to narrow it down, I’m really looking forward to reading A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards. I had a few friends contribute to that project and excited to dig in. Thomas Kidd’s American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths. While this isn’t a book on Edwards—but has a chapter of his dealings with the Great Awakening—it’s about Edwards’ world. The world in which he lived and thought. Also, Douglas Winiarski’s book coming out this year Darkness Falls on the Land of the Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England. I got to see the proofs last week. It looks fantastic.

Thanks so much for chiming in! Will you keep us updated on the project? 

JTL: Absolutely. Daniel and I will be sure to give updates as it moves along. Thanks for having me.

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