Historian David Hempton‘s well researched and lucidly written Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (I’m two chapters in, but already completely sold) is a much needed addition to the scholarship on this influential religious movement:
The problem before us, therefore, is the disarmingly simple one of accounting for the rise of Methodism from its unpromising origins among the flotsam and jetsam of religious societies and quirky personalities in England in the 1730s to a major international religious movement some hundred and fifty years later. During that period Methodism refashioned the old denominational order in the British Isles, became the largest Protestant denomination in the United States on the eve of the Civil War, and gave rise to the most dynamic world missionary movement of the nineteenth century. For all these reasons, there are grounds for stating that the rise of Methodism was the most important Protestant religious development since the Reformation, yet it remains remarkably under-researched. (2)
Hempton has a way of contrasting historical data in striking ways, such as the fact that by the end of the nineteenth century there were more African-American Methodists in the United States than there were Methodists in all of Europe. Clearly by this point the U.S. had become the “power-house of world Methodism” (4).
As for me, I’m interested in the earliest decades of development in Britain (and specifically with the ways that communication practices and technologies were important to early Methodism), but this work certainly provides me with a valuable perspective and a longer historical view. I can only hope to produce a book so well written and persuasively argued.
Geez, I sound like such a fanboy.