Revelating Hicksites and prophesying Seventh-day Adventists : individual religious experiences and community ethics in antebellum America
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Historians of antebellum America have focused on shifting social patterns caused by trends such as democratization and proto-industrialization to explain the rise of new religious communities. These studies, however, have overlooked the ways that the members of these new groups and their visionary leaders understood their goals--in particular their desire to develop new ethical systems from the religious experiences of their founders. My study combines more traditional historical understandings of community formation in antebellum American with methods employed by scholars of religion to provide a clearer picture of the development of unique groups during this era of increased religious diversity. In particular, I argue that scholars must employ both Ann Taves' and William James' methods to study visions and revelations to comprehend how communities addressed the problem of religious experiences' interiority through communal processes of evaluation. To that end, I investigate Elias Hicks, founder of Hicksite Quakerism, and Ellen G. White, the founder of Seventh-day Adventism. My work on Hicks and White focuses on the processes by which their visionary ethics were transmitted into and practiced by their communities over time. Taken together, their ministries demonstrate that the visions of founders typically spoke to ethical issues--broadly and narrowly construed. Both leaders addressed personal, interpersonal, and social ills, and they each presented themselves as the model of obedience to their own visions and revelations in their autobiographies. Yet they faced different issues in convincing people of the truth of their visions for their communities. All Quakers expected their ministers to receive revelations during worship, so Hicks only had to persuade them that following revelation over scripture represented true Quaker orthodoxy. Sabbatarian Adventists, however, came from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds, so White had to persuade some of them not only to accept her teachings, but the existence of visions in the first place. Ultimately, their different views of the trajectory of history influenced their lasting legacies to their communities: eventually Hicks' specific teachings fell out of favor among Hicksites who maintained only his commitment to continuing, progressive revelation. White's teachings, however, remain both influential and hotly contested, because her reputation as prophet is bound up in Adventists' belief in the end of days.