Friday, 3 January 2014

Insomnia, Print Culture, the Bebbington Quadrilateral, and Conceived in Doubt at the ASCH

One of the downsides of attending conferences for me is that I almost always have insomnia. From my days as a graduate student to the present, I have grown accustomed to reading, writing, and even sleeping with a steady flow of noise. It may be hard to believe, but I am most productive when I work at home with my children playing somewhere in the house, my wife on the phone or talking with my boys, and even when the television is on in the background. My friends at graduate school did not believe me when I told them that I pored through monographs with the television on and my children playing in the same room until they heard testimony to this fact from my wife and kids. I even require noise while sleeping. Since the beginning of my seventeen-year marriage, I have fallen asleep to the ambient sounds of a noisemaker that plays throughout the night. My lived experience of operating amidst constant clamor is contrasted when I am away from home. When I attend conferences, and stay in a hotel, I suddenly experience nearly complete silence, and I find it eerie. This kind of silence strikes my senses as unnatural and almost inevitably leads to insomnia for me throughout my time at the conference. After three or four days of functioning on only a few hours of sleep, I am desperate to return to the comfort of my home where there is more steady pattern of familiar sounds.

I awoke from about two hours of sleep on Friday, feeling like a zombie as I headed to breakfast with my fellow panelists before our 8:30am-10:00am session on "Printing Evangelicalisms: Evangelical Book Culture across Three Centuries," where I gave my paper on "The Role of Samuel Kneeland and Daniel Henchman as Jonathan Edwards's Chief Printer and Publisher at Boston." I think that all of the panelists, including myself, were shocked that the room was packed with people at such an early time in the morning. My fellow panelists Keith Grant and Daniel Vaca gave excellent papers, and I was particularly pleased with Catherine Brekus's insightful comments as the respondent. It was also nice to meet some of the people in the audience, including Rhys Bezzant, who has an exciting new book out on Jonathan Edwards and the Church, published by Oxford University Press.

After "Printing Evangelicalisms," I attended the 10:30am session, "Evangelicalism in Modern Britain Turns-Five: Re-Examining David Bebbington's 'Quadrilateral' Thesis." My friend Charlie Phillips and I put this panel together and sponsored the session. The papers by Kelly Elliott, Tommy Kidd, and Amanda Porterfield exceeded my expectation in their thoughtful analysis of Bebbington's book. I was equally impressed with Bebbington's response to each of the papers. He seems to thrive in these kinds of settings.

The other interesting session that I attended was on "Doubting the Democratization Thesis: A Roundtable Discussion of Amanda Porterfield's Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation." After hearing the glowing reviews of Michael Altman, James Byrd, and Kathryn Gin Lum, I awoke from my catatonic sleepless state when Mark Noll took the lectern and broke the series of compliments by offering a respectful, but sharp criticism of Amanda's book. Even though Mark commended Conceived in Doubt at the end of his paper, I was surprised at the extent to which he excoriated her thesis. I thought that Amanda's response throughout the whole of the session, and even with regard to Mark's comments, was extremely gracious, demonstrating a model on how scholars should respond in these kinds of situations.

After this final session, I ate dinner with the Bebbington panelists at Smith and Wollensky, which UTC and the Maclellan Foundation sponsored as a way of thanking the contributors.

Now that I have had one hour and a half of sleep, perhaps I will go exercise. I wonder if the hotel gym is open at 2:30am.

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