Enlightenment and Awakening Today's

September 23, 2003


Enlightenment and Awakening

Today's class went well. I was amused when I compared it to the skeleton outline I put up a day or so ago. I walked into the classroom with that outline. I taught the overall framework and the second two thirds.

I opened with some general remarks about the 18th century and what we would be doing this week. I then laid out the plan: a third of the class setting the scene, a third on the enlightenment, and a third on the awakening. So far we match the outline below.

But, that first third was very unlike what I had outlined. I did indeed introduce them to 18th century life, but what I did was set up colonial elites and make the argument that by the middle of the 18th century colonial religion was elitist and formalized. In the process I mentioned the county courts and parish vestries in Virginia yet again, talked about how New England religion became tribal with salvation becoming effectively hereditary regardless of what the theological theories said. In the process I gave them a couple of set pieces.

We did viva voce elections in Virginia, cribbing outrageously from Rhys Isaac and I acted out the ritual of the two candidates, the county clerk, and the individual voter stepping forward, proving his qualifications, stating his preference out loud in front of the community, and then being personally thanked by the candidate of his choice.

For the middle colonies, I gave them the Weberization of the Quakers. I started with 1640s Quakers, challenging authority, rejecting social norms, one of many wild and radical groups in the English Civil Wars. I conjured up the image of the half naked quaker, her face blackened with soot, marching into the middle of a Puritan meeting house dragging a cross over her shoulder, and challenging the minister up in his pulpit, trying to debate him on the nature of true religion. It is a striking image. But, by the 1730s in Pennsylvania Quakers were calm and quiet - I contrasted that earlier Mary Dyer type with the public friends of the early 18th century, standing up to deliver a sermon indistinguishable in form or content from those presented in other Protestant houses of worship.

From there we went to the enlightenment. I did the usual board drill where they name some enlightenment dudes. I asked the morning class how many had read something from these guys, most of them had. This is a good sign for the future. I then ran through the basic narrative of astronomy to Newton to regular laws deduced from observations and describing the "natural" world. Then we had Locke and his tabula rosa. From there we did Locke and toleration. I did the exercise where you use a prop to show simple ideas - color, shape - combine them into complex ideas, and have those ideas enter your mind. I showed them a red umbrella or an orange book, and they were aware that they saw this thing. Then I told them that I would punish them unless they saw this prop I was holding as something else - a yellow pineapple or a multicolored beach ball. It was pretty easy to get them through Locke's argument that while force can get you to state words that agree with the source of power, no form of external coercion could convince them that the red umbrella I was holding was actually something else.

I finished the enlightenment with natural law, the state of nature, and the social contract. This section closed with my reminder that natural law is a method, not an answer, and that people get very different notions of what is "natural" depending on their preconceptions. Thus Hobbes and Rousseau had very different states of nature and thus imagined very different social contracts. I then used a more pungent example, showing the first section how natural law logic could show that women and men are equal and that women are "naturally" subordinate to me and showing the second the same thing for black and white. I am not sure which made the better example, gender or race.

Then we did the awakening. I explained basic Pietism, claimed it was a worldwide movement, and then gave them Jonathan Edwards as the case study. I explained Stoddard and communion as a saving ordinance, thus tying them back to the vignette of New England that we had started with. I then argued that Edwards used Lockean psychology to induce a religious fervor by describing a situation so clearly that it became real in the minds of the audience. I paraphrased part of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" - setting the scene, staring at the back of the room, summarizing Edwards in a monotone - before breaking and stepping aside and analyzing it with them. As an aside, I found it almost impossible to teach, impersonating Jonathan Edwards, without moving my hands. I really do wave around a lot!

From there I ran through the Wesley brothers, George Whitefield, and the new light challenge to formal religion and traditional authority. I tried to give them the liberal-new light conflict and don't think I did that very well. But, I did very clearly make the point that the Awakening got people into the habit of making decisions, and that this habit of thinking critically about authority would drive the Revolutionary Crisis. We are indeed in the buildup to the American Revolution.

Looking over this, we did a LOT of stuff in 80 minutes. The kids took a lot of notes today - I saw them doing it.

I gave a tight lecture from limited lecture notes, with some improvisation and a couple of set-piece scenes. Of course I think it went well. On the down side, I was talking at them for 80 minutes, and even with the cut piece moments it was still a static lecture. I NEED to structure Thursday's class on England and America as a discussion. They are reading Franklin's Autobiography for Thursday and writing homework on it. They should have something to talk about. The challenge will be getting a structure that will encourage them to speak in class and synthesize Franklin with the other things we have been covering and the things they have been reading in their textbooks.

And so to blog about things outside of the classroom.

After setting

Posted by Red Ted at September 23, 2003 08:57 AM | TrackBack