A Working Conference and Book
Ellen Gould Harmon White (1827-1915), cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist church, is a significant figure in American religion. To date there has not been a systematic scholarly examination of the full range and scope of her place in American history. A group of scholars is planning a working conference, bringing together for the first time specialists in Ellen White studies and specialists in her wider contexts. Conference participation is limited to 65 chapter authors and respondents who will meet in Portland, Maine, October 22-25, 2009. There the group will refine previously circulated chapters that address Ellen White’s biography and religious contexts; her influence as a leader, author, temperance speaker, and theologian; and her relationship to society. The book manuscript will be submitted to Oxford University Press, which has expressed interest in publishing the volume, in June 2010.
Why This Conference and Book?
Ellen White has been identified with Anne Hutchinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Baker Eddy, and Aimee Semple McPherson as one of the most prominent women in American religious history, yet she is one of the least studied and understood. There is not a single scholarly biography of her.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the four most innovative denominations founded in the United States in the nineteenth century, along with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the Church of Christ, Scientist; and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the present time, the SDA church has the largest worldwide membership of the four. The LDS denomination and its leaders have undergone thorough historical treatment, and Christian Science has been extensively examined as well. Much less attention has been accorded the Witnesses and the Adventists. Conference organizers believe wider scholarly discussions on Ellen White are long overdue.
This conference and book are designed to initiate conversations between Ellen White scholars and historians who specialize in the wider contexts she inhabited. Virtually all currently active North American historians with research ties to Ellen White have been lined up as either chapter authors or respondents. In order to address adequately the nuances of both her Seventh-day Adventist framework and her more general historical context, conference organizers have selected one SDA and one non-SDA respondent for each chapter. Organizers of the conference have chosen Portland, Maine for the event in order to ground the book project in the geographical location where Ellen Harmon White was born and received her formative religious experiences. The conference will draw on the expertise of historians of the Portland, Maine community and will provide the Southern Maine region with two plenary lectures and site interpretations of general interest.
It is expensive to conduct the kind of conference described here. We are making this investment in order to introduce Ellen White to the general scholarly community and produce a book manuscript for one of the world’s top academic publishers. The conference is designed to produce stellar collaborative research. The scholarly exchange between Ellen White specialists and students of her broader contexts would take decades to achieve in occasional meetings at professional conferences. Bringing together so many angles of inquiry will ensure thorough coverage of the diverse subjects covered in the book. We plan to take full advantage of this opportunity for exchange. In order to pull busy college and university professors away from their classrooms during the school year (summer research itineraries generally makes summer conferences impractical), we have developed a compact conference schedule, running from Thursday evening to Sunday morning, October 22-25, 2009. We will streamline our time together by housing all the participants and conducting all our working sessions at a hotel in downtown Portland. Participants will be seated around a large, microphone-equipped rectangular table to facilitate discussion. Our meal times will be fairly brief, scheduled during breaks between sessions, and meals will be served in a space adjacent to our meeting room.
The book is designed to be a valuable asset to the study of nineteenth-century American religion, and we also will include the interested general reader in our target audience. We hope the quality of our book manuscript and the marketing skills of Oxford University Press will gain wide readership for our book, but we do not anticipate royalty-generating mass market sales. Most academic books are not income producers. They are placed in academic libraries throughout the world, generate significant attention in book reviews in scholarly journals, and become part of the knowledge base for further research. As a result of our project, we hope that Ellen White will be understood and taken seriously by American religious and social historians.
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