This weekend marks the 2014 winter meeting of the American Society of Church History. Annual ASCH meetings are always held in conjunction with the American Historical Association and also include a spotlight session organized by the Pietism Studies Group. Kudos to PSG president (and occasional Pietist Schoolman guest blogger) Christian Collins Winn for connecting with A. Greg Roeber and helping to organize this year’s offering: a review panel on Roeber’s new book, Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America.
Roeber is a senior scholar at Penn State who is an authority on the Atlantic World and especially its German and Reformation context. He’s also a respected scholar on Pietism and church history in general. He brings this wealth of expertise to bear on the evolution of marriage throughout the western tradition, but specifically from the Reformation through the 19th century. In so doing, he uses three regional contexts as case studies: Europe, India, and North America (as the title implies). Commentators were Heike Liebau, an expert on Pietist mission work among the Tamil population in India, Amanda Porterfield, well known scholar of American religious history, and Kirsten Sword, who has a forthcoming book on marriage law in early America.
The panel proved to facilitate stimulating discussion on topics that included:
- The inevitable tensions in translating European ceremonial customs like marriage and the accompanying expectations for gender roles to non-western cultural contexts
- Observations about how marriage serves various functions including love, sexual expression, and sacramental and mystical purposes, as well as legal status and the preservation of social order
- Tensions between mutuality and hierarchy in marriage
- Explanations for the various views on marriage and sexuality among radical Pietists
- Fluidity of definitions of marriage in the early modern period
- The limits of ministerial and ecclesiastical sources for capturing the realities of “lived religion”
- The fact that both “radical” and “traditional” articulations of gender and marriage are rooted in the rhetoric of reclaiming ancient traditions.
Perhaps this post will pique some interest in our Pietism Studies Group, which oversees H-Pietism, a discussion network at Humanities-Net. You can sign up to receive email updates, relevant book reviews, calls for papers, and other happenings among Pietist scholars here.