This paper explores some of the ways hymns informed the Methodist revival. I argue that the hymns can be better understood as the site of a complex negotiation between John and Charles Wesley and their followers, as the brothers attempted to steer the movement away from charges of religious enthusiasm. The emotional power the hymns unleashed required various kinds of constraint so that hymn singing fed the intense feelings of conversion in controlled ways while providing the feelings with content. The hymns achieved this, in part, by creating for singers an experience of identification (as described by Kenneth Burke); that is, singers identified with the lyrical and rhythmic qualities of the hymns, thereby confirming spiritual impulses they felt but could not always express. In addition, by questioning the rationality of mainstream Enlightenment religion, the hymns functioned, though not always successfully, to challenge the grounds on which the anti-Methodists mounted their campaign against Methodism. Like other features of the revival, such as open-air preaching and lay ministry, hymn singing generated controversy; paradoxically, this controversy provided much of the energy that ultimately sustained the Methodist movement and helped to define the faith of individual Methodists.
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Research Article| April 01 2012
Brett C. McInelly; Raising the Roof: Hymn Singing, the Anti-Methodist Response, and Early Methodist Religiosity. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 April 2012; 36 (2): 80–110. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-1548045
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