Tolar-Burton, Vicki. Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley’s Methodism: Reading, Writing, and Speaking to Believe. Waco: Baylor UP, 2008. Print.
Chapter One: John Wesley and the Rhetorical and Literacy Practices of Early Methodism
There’s a lot going on in this section as it introduces the reader to Wesley’s program and also serves as the blueprint
for the remainder of the book. Early in the introduction, VTB lays out a couple of different goals for her work:
- Describe how Welsey’s Methodism encouraged/sponsored “spiritual literacy” that took place in private, communal and institutional contexts (2).
- Illustrate how Wesley – due to his understanding of the transformative power of language in spirituality – wanted to make “ordinary” Methodists readers, writers and public speakers (1).
- First contextualize then “tell the story” of the opportunities that Wesley offered ordinary, “lower-class” folks through a community literacy that “included personal practices [journals/diaries], small group leadership, distance learning, and publication” (4). In this process, Burton hopes to demonstrate how Wesley’s rhetoric was representative of the doctrine of “priesthood of all believers” that emphasized egalitarian spiritual principles and the importance of lived, personal experience.
In the sections that follow, VTB contextualizes the Methodist movement in the contexts of religious rhetoric and the religious and political climate of the early 18th century. After building context, VTB explains the philosophic theories undergirding Wesley’s program (Lockean emphasis on the primacy of experience) before briefly sketching the class tensions that arose because of Wesley’s community literacy efforts. The first chapter closes with a mapping of the book in total.
- In addition to laying out these broad goals for the study, VTB also discusses her method in bits and pieces throughout the introduction. She is primarily interested in composing an account that treats with equal measure the principles and questions of New Literacy Studies scholars like David Barton, Mary Hamilton, Deborah Brandt, Ellen Cushman, and Beverly Moss as well as historians of literacy like Heidi Brayman Hackel and Jonathan Rose.
- VTB also recognizes that her study takes up intimately the study of women. In this way, VTB’s work is one of feminist historiography as it employs both a “her-story” approach to the literacy practices of women in the early Methodist movement as well as a narrative reconstruction of how women were integrated “into the fabric of Methodist history” (5). In so doing, she hopes to demonstrate women’s agency and power in this particular sociohistorical moment.
- My approach to early Methodist texts is influence by the work of David Barton and Mary Hamilton, who suggest that literacy practices are “the general cultural ways of utilizing written language which people draw upon in their lives” and include people’s “awareness of literacy, constructions of literacy and discourses of literacy, how people talk about and make sense of literacy” (7) (9).
- My study stands with the poor, the ordinary people of early Methodism, by seeking to identify, describe, and understand the literacy and rhetorical practices available to the poor and laboring classes in eighteent-century Methodism and by including their texts and voices as they participated in practices of private, communal, and institutional spirituality. (7)
- John Wesley advocated a number of specific modes of public expression for Methodist women, including spiritual conversation, speaking or praying in bands and classes, public prayer, public testimony or witness, exhortation, and expounding upon a scriptural passage or some other text, which might be accomplished by reading it aloud and asking questions of those gathered as to meaning. (18)
- For Wesley, the rhetoric of experience begins with the perception of the inner and outer experience (which he describes using rhetorical language as a kind of testimony to the self from the senses). (24)
- This book describes the order of discourse in early Methodism, a new order that disrupted the British rhetorical hierarchy at the point of sexuality and politics. The uses wich Methodist women, the lower order, and the poor made of spoken and written discourse both threatened the existing order. . . and worked against revolutionary change. . . (30).
- I find the sort of work that VTB is doing to be really, really interesting. I wonder what sorts of studies of “community literacy practices” are made possible through historiography?
- What are some of the ethical dilemmas of representation involved in rhetorical histories of literacy? How do we represent research subjects that are already in the process of being represented (through archival materials, second-hand sources, etc.)?
- Where do we start to look for materials like VTB is using in this text to examine the “lower ranks” of folks in the past? How is this process one of representation vs. re-creation? Does this diminish the ethos of the study at all?
- In keeping with the previous question, how do reclaimed rhetorical histories – I’m thinking of Glynn’s Rhetoric Retold or Unspoken: the Rhetoric of Silence – complicate our idea of historiography? How do the politics of research methods play into these reconstructions/re-evaluations? Are any historical methods apolitical? ( I doubt it, but it’s worth asking)