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Shouting, Embracing, and Dancing with Ecstasy: The Growth of Methodism in Newfoundland, 1774-1874.

Shouting, Embracing, and Dancing with Ecstasy: The Growth of Methodism in Newfoundland, 1774-1874. By Calvin Hollett. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. xviii + 368 pp. $85.00 cloth.

With Shouting, Embracing, and Dancing with Ecstasy, Hollett does not ser out to write a comprehensive history of Methodism in Newfoundland but rather to reset the course of historiography of Methodism in Newfoundland and the study of Christianity in Canada more broadly. First and foremost Hollett calls into question the "conceptual framework" of previous scholarship that has characterized "Newfoundland as a desolate land of isolation and degeneracy, which was rescued by the organization and leadership of the clergy" (249). In opposition to such top-down scholarship that has continually emphasized the role of missionaries and clergy in the expansion of Methodism in Newfoundland, Hollett argues that it "was the zeal and fervour of the people through revivals, a vernacular piety, that provided the energy and motivation for the expansion of Methodism" (6). Hollett is seeking to portray Methodism in Newfoundland as a lay-driven, vibrant, enthusiastic form of Christianity, which he does very well through the use of a wide range of sources including letters, diaries, Methodist periodicals, and missionary reports. In contrast to previous characterizations of Newfoundland as a barren, craggy outpost whose fishermen were isolated from each other and confined to their settlements, Hollett argues that Newfoundlanders were in actuality extremely mobile and interconnected. It was this mobility (the seasonal travel that fishermen and their families undertook) that lay at the core of Methodism's successful transplantation throughout most of the colony.

Hollett organizes his study along geographical lines, that is, in successive chapters he examines the spread of Methodism in five bay areas along the northeastern and southern coasts of Newfoundland. (Five detailed maps of Newfoundland settlements in these regions are included.) Hollett positions his revisionist approach to Newfoundland Methodism firstly by examining previous historiography of Methodism in Newfoundland. He also discusses tensions within Newfoundland Methodism that were centered around clergy/ lay dynamics that support his thesis "that Methodist polity and missionaries were ... secondary and, at times, a hindrance" (7) to the spread of Methodism. Finally, Hollett argues that historiography has, in order to support its claim that Newfoundland was isolated, described Newfoundland Methodism as a peculiar sort, distinct from normative forms of Methodism in England and North America. Hollett goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that, to the contrary, it was consistent with Methodism elsewhere and dependent on Wesley's formation of Methodism and that any differences were nuanced, not substantive.

The historiography of Christianity in Newfoundland, let alone Methodism, is far from vast and this alone makes Hollett's study an important contribution to the study of the history of Christianity in Canada which has long been dominated by the study of Christianity in Upper Canada (Ontario). With its revisionist program, Shouting, Embracing, and Dancing with Ecstasy also marks a further contribution in that it locates the study of Christianity in Canada in the "congregation" rather than in the institution, this following a call made by Mark G. McGowan in his essay, "Coming out of the Cloister: Some Reflections on Developments in the Study of Religion in Canada, 1980-1990" (International Journal of Canadian Studies 1-2 [Spring-Fall, 1990]: 175-202). It is indicative of the state of the historiography of Christianity in Canada that Hollett can return to this call made twenty years ago and still have currency. One can only hope that Shouting, Embracing and Dancing with Ecstasy will speed on the process and that it will not take another twenty years to implement McGowan's call more widely among scholars of religion in Canada.

With the welcome emphasis on lay experience and activity that Hollett's study brings, it raises an important question about the nature of religion and how to study it. While I too find enthusiastic expressions of religiosity more engaging as a scholarly venture than I do institutional structures, Hollett's obvious partiality toward "zeal and fervour" as the essence of Methodism results in a problematic depiction of Methodism. In opposition to the dynamic, spontaneous, and revivalist Methodists who Hollett favors, are "nominal" Methodists (whom one can only assume were those individuals who in a previous time showed some signs of enthusiasm but had returned to a more staid life) and the hierarchy and institutional structure--the "shell" of Methodism as Hollett describes it (6). Hollett too easily pits "enthusiasm" against "structure" when in fact this tension that Hollett so ably illuminates was also a vital and dynamic force in the shaping of Methodism. Studying religion as the experience and activity of laity does not preclude the importance of institution. It is not so much about ranking laity and clergy/ institution, with the latter being "secondary," as it is to probe into how laity needed, overlooked, utilized, were frustrated by, welcomed, or rejected it. While Hollett's theoretical framework is unduly oppositional in nature, in reality Shouting, Embracing, and Dancing with Ecstasy reveals just how complex the relationship between laity and clergy was in nineteenth-century Newfoundland and how intertwined they were in the spread of Methodism.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640711000345

Kerry L. Fast

York University
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Author:Fast, Kerry L.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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