As a scholar, I am fundamentally interested in how communities are understood and how they are understood by others. I explore community identity through a lens of race, religion, and historical memory. More recently, I have begun to apply digital methods to my scholarship, seeing the layered approach it offers as a natural extension of my more traditional scholarship.
My first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon (University Press Mississippi, 2015) explores the evolution of eighteenth-century revivalist missionary George Whitefield into a transatlantic religious icon. Whitefield is long-established by Frank Lambert and others as a transatlantic figure of revivalism, and his popularity well-documented. His skill both as an orator and in harnessing eighteenth-century print culture is also known. My book sought to understand the persistence of Whitefield’s popularity, which continued well into the nineteenth century. I concluded that Whitefield became a transatlantic icon shaped in the complexities of revivalism, the contest over religious toleration, and the conflicting roles of Christianity for enslaved people. Evangelical Christianity’s emphasis on “freedom in the eyes of God,” combined with the problems that the rhetoric of the Revolution posed for slavery, also suggested a path to political freedom. My exploration of the evolution of Whitefield’s pro-slavery thought and its reconciliation with his religious influence on anti-slavery figures like Olaudah Equiano, along with my application of memory studies to understanding how Whitefield evolved as an icon, are among the book’s central contributions. The book uses a lens of memory to assess (and reject) the frequently nationalist, hagiographical treatments of Whitefield. My recent article in Wesley and Methodist Studies is an extension of my efforts to understand his influence. Whitefield’s career cut across a broad expanse of geography, and his reputation and receipt was uneven. I theorize how a spatial approach could be used to better understand his career across the British Atlantic. I anticipate turning the article into a digital project.
My current project explores the evolution of African American religious thought. I am using slave narratives, pamphlets, and other materials to explore the the development of what I identify as three (sometimes interconnected) threads of Black thought. I see one thread of thought that is primarily concerned with redemption of slavery. Another focuses more specifically on the American Revolution and the future of enslaved Africans. The third is a jeremiad, that reflects back on the failure of the Revolution to address slavery, in some cases, warning white pro-slavery Christians about the soul of the young republic. Most studies of African American religious thought are siloed, focusing primarily on the colonial period, the nineteenth-century, or from the rise of Black nationalism in the early nineteenth century. It is my hope that my book will draw connections between the early writings of the eighteenth-century, through the American Revolution, and into the nineteenth century.