A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practices in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia.
Faith matters to the author of this book. As a prolific author of works on Christian spirituality, Lauren F. Winner has consistently linked
spiritual practices to personal formation. These concerns are at the heart of her recent book on Anglican household religious practices in eighteenth-century Virginia. Her subjects--elite planter families--fashioned a vibrant, domestic devotional culture based on a comfort-giving Anglican faith.
A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith reflects a recent reinterpretation of colonial Anglicanism. Eighteenth-century Virginia no longer seems a place of spiritual apathy and irreligion. Scholars like J. K. Nelson have argued institutional Anglicanism was a strong and vital force in colonists' lives. Winner argues a similar point but locates this religious vitality in the household.
Each of her chapters centers on a single object and how colonial Anglicans used these artifacts to experience and practice religion. Baptismal bowls, needlework, prayer books, tables, and mourning garb creatively reveal the nature of colonial Anglican piety. In the first chapter, the author begins with baptism and its connotations of spiritual and physical birth. Elites wanted children baptized quickly to assure their eternal salvation in a society that suffered high rates of infant mortality. These home baptisms also allowed the patriarchal family to retain power during a practice that ritually removed a child from their family, giving them a new, spiritual Father
Another set of objects--samplers and prayer books--served didactic functions. Needlework was a "religious act, a domestic, embodied catechesis" (60). Females of all ages, through samplers, learned domestic skills and basic literacy but also received religious lessons about right living and appropriate moral behavior. Prayer books worked similarly, reorienting the life of the believer around a set of social and ecclesiastical strictures. The liturgy of the prayer books gave adherents a language to understand and practice their faith.
In the final chapters, Winner focuses on tables and mourning garb, which she uses to discuss rituals associated with holy days and death. Elite women were responsible for the preparations for these feast days and thus had the responsibility of reminding their family of the connection between their sojourn throughout the year and Christ's sojourn on Earth. Mourning garb also reminded Anglicans of their place on Earth. Objects, like rings with a hair of the deceased, reminded survivors of the deceased and taught them to hope for the Resurrection.
By connecting material culture to religious practice, Winner offers an original understanding of Anglican piety. Although she takes these religious practices seriously, she does not ignore the important ways elite religious rituals created and reinforced racial and sexual differences. However, her focus on elites does bring up the obvious question of whether or not poorer Virginians, who did not possess these same expensive objects, would have lived religion in the same way as elites. Overall, her book is a primer on how scholars can use different types of sources to recover a previously unknown dimension of the religious imagination of Anglicans in colonial Virginia.
Nathaniel H. Wiewora
University of Delaware
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|Author:||Wiewora, Nathaniel H.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2011|
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