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Empire of the Spirit

David Hempton

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"Brilliantly provocative. . . . [A] masterful account."—Grant Wacker, Christian Century

The emergence of Methodism was arguably the most significant transformation of Protestant Christianity since the Reformation. This book explores the rise of Methodism from its unpromising origins as a religious society within the Church of England in the 1730s to a major international religious movement by the 1880s. During that period Methodism refashioned the old denominational order in the British Isles, became the largest religious denomination in the United States, and gave rise to the most dynamic world missionary movement of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, Methodism had circled the globe and was poised to become one of the fastest-growing religious traditions in the modern world.

David Hempton, a preeminent authority on the history of Methodism, digs beneath the hard surface of institutional expansion to get to the heart of the movement as a dynamic and living faith tradition. Methodism was a movement of discipline and sobriety, but also of ecstasy and enthusiasm. A noisy, restless, and emotional tradition, Methodism fundamentally reshaped British and American culture in the age of industrialization, democratization, and the rise of empire.

David Hempton is University Professor at Boston University, where he directs the university’s program in the History of Christianity. His previous books include Methodism and Politics in British Society, 1750–1850, which won the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society; Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland; and The Religion of the People: Methodism and Popular Religion, c.1750–1900.

A selection of the History Book Club 

"The great strengths of this book are its command of the history of Methodism on both sides of the Atlantic and, of no less importance, Hempton’s acute sense of the social contexts that allow religious movements to take root and flourish. Overall, his is the best informed and most acute analysis of Methodism’s success in America that we have."—David D. Hall, Harvard University

"This impressive book is one of the best—and certainly one of the most lively—books on Methodism to emerge in years. Based on Hempton’s formidable learning, Empire of the Spirit provides a well-informed survey of the dynamics of global Methodism. It is exhilarating in both style and content."—John Walsh, Oxford University

“David Hempton’s An Empire of the Spirit is a tremendous achievement in bringing to fruition a global perspective on the history of Methodism—a massive religious movement that no other historian knows as well or has explored with such discerning vision. The heart mattered to Wesleyans everywhere, and that heart, Hempton makes clear, was as torn as it was warm. With his transnational scope, Hempton reveals the inner tensions of the people called Methodists, their antinomian feelings and self-improving disciplines, their populist gusto and bourgeois restraint, their inwardness and expansionism. This is an important book on an important movement.”—Leigh E. Schmidt, Princeton University

"This is an extraordinary book. It is jammed full of scintillating interpretations; it is beautifully written; and it conveys tremendous insight in a short compass. It will be recognized immediately as the classic work on the rise of Methodism."— Mark Noll, Wheaton College

"Wearing his wisdom and deep learning lightly, David Hempton has produced a sparkling, landmark study whose timely international approach lifts Methodist history to a new and exciting level."—Richard Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of American History, Oxford University 

"This is a magnificent book which goes far to establish Hempton as the emperor of the Methodist realm he describes. What is impressive is not just the great range of evidence he brings to bear, but his intellectual mastery of the whole argument, and his endlessly sprightly style."—Professor W.R. Ward, author of The Protestant Evangelical Awakening

“This impressive study raises the bar for Methodist studies historiography. . . . Pioneering. . . . [Hempton] provides a brilliant analysis of Methodist transplantation across national contexts that accounts for Methodism’s rise and decline in specific settings. . . .  Highly recommended.”—Choice

"Brilliantly provocative. . . . [A] masterful account."—Grant Wacker, Christian Century

"Hempton’s unusually well-written book benefits from the recent surge of fine historical work on early Methodism and represents an analytical leap forward in its own right. It charts the Methodist course on both sides of the Atlantic, revisits questions of advance and decline with fresh archival research and illuminates the movement’s social background with unprecedented sensitivity."—Mark A. Noll, Christian Century

"A thought-provoking assessment of Western Methodism, of what it has meant to people over the generations, and, indeed, of what it is today."—Kirsteen Murray, International Bulletin of Missionary Research



"David Hempton follows recent interest in the growth of world Christianity by assessing the global development of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Methodism. . . . The major questions confronting early Methodism are vividly described in this cogent, compelling book."—Thomas S. Kidd, Journal of Church and State

"...a splendid work which is clearly written, well researched and full of useful insights."---Methodist Recorder

"Always readable and with a crisp turn of phrase, [Hempton] provides an admirable introduction to this extraordinary subject." —Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement 

"David Hempton's important study not only illumines the expansion of international Methodism but also provides a refined model for the study of religion in the modern era. . . . It will become the standard account of worldwide Methodist expansion."—E. Brooks Holifield, The Journal of American History

“David Hempton’s brilliant and beautifully crafted new book takes writing on the history of Methodism to a new level. … He is as well versed in social, cultural and political history as he is in the history of religion. … The novelty of his approach…[is] scintillating… This is not only the most important book to be written on the history of global Methodism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it also has claims to be considered as one of the most significant books published in the last fifty years on the history of Christianity. In short, David Hempton’s Methodism…deserves to be ranked…as a landmark in the field.” - Jeremy Gregory, Theology

"An ambitious, wide-ranging analysis of this international religious movement. . . . Succeeds admirably. . . . It challenges scholars of evangelicalism to cast their studies within the perspective of the Atlantic rim, even to think globally, and it raises the kinds of questions that will make everyone think hard."—Christine Leigh Heyrman, American Historical Review

"Hempton's research on the global expansion of Methodism is impressive, and his thoughtful and scholarly interpretations of events provide fresh insights into an intriguing topic. . . . Its style is totally engaging. Methodism: Empire of the Spirit  bears reading and rereading."—Edna B. Quinn, Magill's Literary Annual

"Such a study may go far toward furthering our understanding of such debated points in our own traditions as origins, ecclesiology, and soteriology."—Nathan A. Finn, Faith and Mission

"David Hempton's Methodism: Empire of the Spirit  is a virtuoso performance. Judicious and engaging, clear and forceful, it positions itself as the most persuasive account yet of the rise of Methodism. . . . [It] ought to find a large and grateful audience. Methodist seminaries and graduate students in European and American religious history should flock to it. Students of new religious movements and scholars in the fields of British and American history will find it instructive as well. Hempton's penetrating understanding of the dimensions of religious belief and experience, human agency, and material and structural forces puts Methodism  in elite company as a work of religious and social history that will engage a broad readership across disciplines."—Thomas W. Simpson, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Tantalizing and provocative."—David A. Johnson, Victorian Studies

"[Hempton's] patient and penetrating analysis . . . makes for one of the most dynamic and complex accounts of the growth of Methodism to date. . . . Hempton leaves his readers hungry for more. This volume is highly recommended for persons interested in the history of Methodism, modern American and European religious history, the American holiness movement, religion and the Enlightenment in England and America, and the history of evangelicism and other populist religious movements in America."—Jason Vickers, Interpretation

"Historians, whether scholars or undergraduates, will appreciate the clarity as well as the elegance of the prose. Scholars will especially value the persistent engagement with mainstream history. Undergraduates will undoubtedly like the succinct exposition of issues that in other hands would have remained obscure. This is a thoroughly well digested study that will be the starting point for any further investigation of Methodism for many years to come."—Economic History Review

"Although the phenomena of the book are particularly Methodist, the larger insights concerning organization, administration, and association practices set in local contexts have universal application."—R. Jeffrey Hiatt, Missiology

"An impressive book, displaying a depth of scholarship and understanding. . . . Hempton is thought provoking and original in the book's themes, content, and style. The metaphors used, from biology to fine arts, help to maintain the pace of the argument. He teaches much about the Methodism of the past and, in so doing, provides lessons for the present church."—John T. Smith, The Historian

"An attractive, scholarly study that is both entertaining and challenging, and which should prove absorbing to readers in Britain as well as in the United States. . . . No comparable modern study of Methodism as a 'trans-national' phenomenon exists, so this one is to be warmly welcomed."—Barrie Tabraham, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"A valuable contribution to the history of Christianity and Methodist studies. . . . Captures the character and history of Methodism in a single volume that is both approachable and scholarly. It would make an excellent textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses on the Wesley brothers and Methodism."—Kevin Douglas Hill, Anglican Theological Review

"For all the wide reading he brings to bear on the subject, Hempton consistently writes with clarity, grace, and vigor. This book was a pleasure to read."—Bruce Hindmarsh, The Journal of Religion

"No historian writing today knows more about Methodism than David Hempton. This book is the culmination of decades of research and two earlier studies of the interface between Methodism and British politics and society. . . . In less than 300 pages, Hempton manages to summarize and to expand greatly on an increasingly complex body of scholarship exploring the history of Methodism in Britain and the United States. Whether for academics already familiar with the Methodist movement of students encountering the topic for the first time, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit will prove an invaluable resource."—Todd Webb, Social History

Selected for Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, 2006

Included in Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles list, January 2006
ISBN: 9780300106145
Publication Date: April 11, 2005
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus. + 10 tables/graphs
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