Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Article excerpt

A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia. By Lauren E Winner. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 272. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-30012469-9.)

Lauren F. Winner's ambitious new work attempts to redraw the historiographie landscape of colonial Virginia's Anglican past. Strategically placing her book between competing historical interpretations of the established church as either hegemonically functionalist or as penitently pious, Winner argues that Anglican elites seamlessly blended the sacred and secular into "a cheerful and comfortable faith"- a religious worldview simultaneously at peace with both sincere devotion and the hegemonic secular aspirations of a slaveowning oligarchy. Importantly, Winner argues that elite Virginians demonstrated this worldly-wise yet deeply spiritual faith, most often within the confines of their homes. Her emphasis on elite domestic spirituality permits Winner to utilize a wide range of material evidence. A silver bowl intended to cool wine glasses but also used to baptize members of the Mason family, a satin baptismal gown, two pieces of religiously inspired needlework, elegantly bound prayer books, recipes for food served in liturgical seasons, articles of mourning attire, and genealogical lists in family Bibles are all used to suggest the vitality of elite Virginians' home-bound piety.

Although Winner describes eighteenth-century Anglicanism as a "religion at ease with the world" and attempts to highlight the blending of devotional and secular life in colonial Virginia, she devotes much of the book to describing Anglican domestic "lived religion" as intensely devout (pp. 2, 15). Indeed, the Anglicans she describes were more spiritual than worldly; these were Christians who prayed with fervor, aspired to personify biblical heroes of the faith, and firmly believed in the doctrines of their church. Although elite parishioners may have modified the prescriptive messages of their ministers to suit their social positions- especially with reference to their preference for having baptisms and burials conducted in their homes rather than in churches- they, nevertheless, wholeheartedly embraced most of their church's teachings. …

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