Live, from Lancaster County… It’s Jared Burkholder!

If you’ve been wondering why our resident guest-blogger Jared Burkholder (Grace College, IN) hasn’t been blogging here in a while… Jared has spent the fall term as a Snowden Fellow with the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

First things first: what’s the Young Center? (And what’s the specific purpose of the Snowden Fellowship?)

The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies
The Young Center – Elizabethtown College

The Young Center for Pietist and Anabaptist Studies was established in 1986 through the efforts of Elizabethtown College’s then-president Gerhard Spiegler and well-known Anabaptist scholar Donald Kraybill, who was then teaching sociology at Elizabethtown. (“E-Town” college’s original affiliation was with the Church of the Brethren, although the COB no longer has governing power over the college.) The Center was named for Galen and Jessie Young.

Its goal is to promote the academic study and interpretation of various Anabaptist and Pietist groups both in historic and contemporary contexts. It does this through exhibits, public lectures, seminars, and by sponsoring visiting scholars who work in this area of study.

Every year, the Young Center hosts at least one visiting scholar for each semester through their Fellows Program. Snowden fellows are hosted for the fall and Kreider fellows are hosted in the spring semester. (They are named for the families who provided the endowments for these positions.) Fellows are given a modest stipend, work space, and library resources (as well as excellent treats and conversation!) and are expected to give a public lecture during their stay.

What have you been working on during your autumn in Elizabethtown? What do you hope will come of that research?

My main question this fall has been “How have American Protestants and Anabaptists interpreted and re-interpreted the Pietist movement to serve their sense of mission in America?”

Jared Burkholder teaching
Jared in the classroom – Grace College and Seminary

This has taken shape through various avenues. For example, one of the ways reformed-minded Protestants in the 19th century sought to validate their efforts for social activism was by appealing to the efforts of “classical” Pietists such as Philip Jakob Spener and August Hermann Francke. Not surprisingly, this was especially true for Lutherans such as Samuel Simon Schmucker. Other Protestants during the 19th century, especially those within the Calvinist tradition, looked back to German Pietists and their efforts to stave off the spread of “rationalism” among German universities, and this influenced how they responded to the innovations taking place in German intellectual circles. Even some more radical Pietists, such as the Moravians and the Blumhardts, have been admired by evangelicals in recent decades and re-interpreted as proto-Pentecostals who carried within them the stream of divine blessing and living revival.

But, of course, Pietism has been much maligned as well. Even though Moravians were key players in the Great Awakening, many of their fellow evangelicals condemned them as heretical. More confessional-minded Lutherans in the 19th century wrote about Halle Pietism as a dangerous movement and today, neo-Calvinist “Gospel Coalition” types have downplayed Pietism’s role in American evangelical historical identity, often parroting stock criticisms stemming from the 18th century. My long-term goal is to lay all this (and more) out in a monograph. My initial goals were to crank out 1000 – 1200 words of usable prose per day. While I rarely met this word-count, I did manage to pull together several chapters and can now move forward with a clear sense for how the remaining chapters should come together.

Oh, and I almost forgot, I also used the time here to wrap up final edits on a book I am co-editing, with Mark Norris, on the history of Grace College and Seminary, which should be out soon after the first of the year. (Stay tuned about this!)

You’re certainly in the right part of the world to study American religious groups and institutions influenced by Pietism. Just within a hundred miles you’ve got Messiah College, Moravian College, the Schwenkfelder Library, the birthplace of the Boehm-Otterbein movement, and the home of the Ephrata Cloister. Why is this part of Pennsylvania so important to the American history of Pietism?

I was raised in a rural town not far from Elizabethtown and have Mennonite ancestral roots. But as I became interested in history, I thought that Mennonites and other groups in this region weren’t as important as other areas of American history. As a student, I became more interested in “real” history. But in graduate school, I turned my attention back to Pennsylvania’s religious roots and this led to research on the Moravians. I suppose it’s normal not to appreciate what was all around you as a youth, but it has been enlivening to turn my focus back to the mid-Atlantic, knowing now that its history is just as important, fascinating, and legitimate as anything else. The fields, roads, and small towns that were part of my youth were dripping with the stuff of history, and the stories from this area of the country cut to the very heart of critical questions about the role of religion in public life, the relationship between religious freedom and national unity, human longings for intimate and spiritual community, and even the mystical search for communion with God. Religious pluralism existed here, more than any other colonial region, since its beginnings in the 17th century. In this region, native-American history permeates the land; military history mingles with the history of non-resistant groups; and the history of communal societies bumps into a heritage of right-wing, God-and-country conservatism.

Pietism (Lutheran, Reformed, communitarian, Brethren, Moravian, and other varieties) has always been part of this fabric as well, and you’re right, Chris, Elizabethtown is a great location for studying Pietism! In addition to the research I’ve done at the Young Center, I’ve made research trips to the archives at Gettysburg Seminary and the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem. This location is also great for networking! Beyond my engaging conversations with the staff here, I’ve enjoyed conversations among several groups in the Lancaster area to which I’ve given lectures. Back in September, I was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ephrata “Cloister,” and had coffee with Michael Showalter, Ephrata’s Museum Educator. I briefly bumped into members of the staff from the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, the Sider Institute’s Devin Manzullo-Thomas, enjoyed reconnecting with friends such as Dan Snyder, met with Moravian scholar Craig Atwood at Moravian Theological Seminary, as well as attended the semi-annual Bethlehem Conference on Moravian History and Music. Additionally, I made connections with a couple of local Grace Brethren folks about materials related to missions history that may end up at the archives at Grace College’s Winona History Center. My wife, Connie, and I were even able to introduce our kids to their ancestral roots with a visit to the Groffdale Mennonite Church cemetery, where some of the earliest Burkholders were laid to rest in the 18th century.

All in all, its been quite a productive and enriching semester, and I am grateful to the Grace College administration for making this sabbatical possible. As well as Connie and the kids, who trekked half-way across the country for this! And I can’t say enough good things about the Young Center! The staff and resident scholars have been extremely welcoming and are always eager to show guests around. If any readers get the opportunity, don’t hesitate to contact the Young Center director, Jeff Bach, and make an appointment to stop by for a tour!


One thought on “Live, from Lancaster County… It’s Jared Burkholder!

  1. This is an excellent feature post, not only about the fine research and writing of Jared and the work of the Young Center, but also about the fresh emerging and evolving understandings of Pietism in relationship to not only Anabaptism but to other interesting dissenters and holy heretics in Penn’s Woods. Thank you!

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