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  • Pietism in Germany and North America 1680–1820
  • Bethany Wiggin
Jonathan Strom, Hartmut Lehmann, and James Van Horn Melton, eds. Pietism in Germany and North America 1680–1820 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009). Pp. x, 289. $114.95.

In June of 1694, twenty-one-year-old Johannes Kelpius (or Kelp, d. 1708), originally from German-speaking Transylvania, arrived in Philadelphia. A university student in Altdorf, Kelpius’s road to the Quaker colony took him via Rotterdam and London where he sojourned for six months. Despite his tender age, Kelpius soon found himself the leader of a small radical religious group. Initially formed around erstwhile Heidelberg professor Johann Jakob Zimmermann (1644–93), a devoted reader of German mystic Jakob Böhme (1575–1624), the group was subsequently known as the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness (after Rev. 12:6). Earlier that year, this group of about twenty had forged close bonds with the Philadelphian Society in London gathered around the mystic visionary Jane Leade (1624–1704). [End Page 531] Soon after arriving in Penn’s Woods, the Society, a community of visionary hermits, set up camp on Wissahickon Creek within a few miles of Germantown.

Three years after the Society’s arrival in the New World, Kelpius composed one of many letters to his London friend and Philadelphian, the bilingual Heinrich Johann Deichmann (or Dykeman, fl. 1695). After Kelpius’s removal to Pennsylvania’s wilderness, he explained, the hermit continued to treasure the men’s bond, noting in his letter: “We behold the harmony of divine discipline by virtue of a sympathetic agreement of your centre with ours, and although the radiant roads from and to the latter, cross each other in so endless manner, yet with all this diversity, . . . our mother, manifold Wisdom, becomes more dear and joyous” (as quoted, 37). Radiant or not, the roads connecting these and countless other brothers and sisters born of “Wisdom” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries truly crossed and criss-crossed “in so endless manner.”

In this one example, discussed in the generous essay by the late Donald Durnbaugh included in this volume dedicated to him, we see roads traversing Böhme’s Silesia (today in Poland), Heidelberg, the Netherlands, London, and Pennsylvania. By 1693, radical Protestant paths already wove through Massachusetts in North America and would soon extend to Halle in Prussia, Tranquebar in India, Georgia in North America, Herrnhut in Saxony, St. John in the Caribbean, and present-day South Africa—to name but a few nodes in the global evangelical network in place by the mid-eighteenth century.

Long obscured by scholarship within a national frame, this network, in its shape and density, has emerged in recent years in scholarship inspired by W. R. Ward’s magisterial The Protestant Evangelical Awakening (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) and by the work of Hartmut Lehmann. Here, Lehmann, editor of the fourth volume of the authoritative Geschichte des Pietismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993–) and former director of the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen, has provided the translation of a manifesto for a scholarship no longer “guided by terms such as ‘Puritanism’ or ‘Pietism,’ labels attached by often hostile and envious contemporaries” (16). Instead, he calls for a scholarship that would trace the waves of Christian evangelizing that rippled and splashed across the globe beginning in the seventeenth century. In his words, “Within European Christianity, these three movements—pious Protestants in England, pious French Catholics named after their spiritual leader Jansenius, and pious German Lutherans whom contemporaries named Pietists—all opposed early forms of secularization of politics and culture by challenging the aspirations of absolutism. They represented the first attempts to re-christianize European societies threatened by de-christianization” (16).

In the regrettably brief essay that concludes this volume, Ulrike Gleixner discusses how nineteenth-century historiography reinvented a Pietist tradition without the women previously prominent within it. Rightly, she registers, “modern Pietism experts and church historians” often still fail to “give women’s contribution to Pietism as much weight” as did early modern predecessors such as Johann Henrich Reitz (1665–1720) (273). Of course, early modern Pietism not only included more active women than some later historians have...


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