Friday, September 4, 2015

Christine Leigh Heyrman's "American Apostles"

Christine Leigh Heyrman is the Robert W. and Shirley P. Grimble Professor of American History at the University of Delaware. She is the author of Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities in Colonial Massachusetts, 1690-1750 and Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, winner of the 1998 Bancroft Prize.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Legion, the superstitions of these people [the Maltese], but what else could be expected from the centuries of Roman Catholic sway? Jowett glimpsed its most vivid emblem from the terrace of his airy, elegant villa—the looming twin towers of St. John of Jerusalem, a great, gaudy Baroque pile perched near Valletta’s summit. Before the high altar and a huge statue of St. John baptizing Jesus, the congregation bowed their heads and knelt. Now there was a testimony to the power of faith, given how freely the faithful spat on the floor—even the priests and sometimes the women. (“I have never mixed in the crowds at church without some apprehension for my clothes.”) How could the people revere such a clergy—among them that buffoon of a Capuchin month? (Disgusting, his mimicry of a false penitent in his sermon—ranting, laughing, and crying—as if he were standing on a stage instead of a pulpit.) Jowett’s sole satisfaction came from the knowledge that St. John’s exterior walls—built like all of Valletta, from soft, crumbly limestone—were peeling in thin layers. The great church was flaking away like a giant’s sandcastle whenever a sirocco beat up, the wind which made people so melancholy that sadness seeped into their very dreams. But the sirocco did not blow often or hard enough to suit Jowett. Malta’s lying sky nearly always shone clear and serene, as if this island fortress of crusader Catholicism were not every inch as much the dominion of Satan as the lands ruled by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Since 1800, it had also been a dominion of Britain.
What a windfall, finding archival sources rich enough to sustain a “point-of-view” narrative like this paragraph. I felt smug, being able to follow my own advice to graduate students: Dramatize, dramatize, dramatize. So enter William Jowett, a key member of American Apostles’ supporting cast, who aired his candid views about Catholics, as well as Jews and Muslims, in long letters to his mother and brother-in-law back in England. A genteel Anglican clergyman in his early 30s headquartered in Valletta, the largest city in Malta, he was the architect of British evangelical missionary policy throughout the Mediterranean in the 1820s. Jowett favored an aggressive approach to converting Muslims, even if it risked the lives of his junior colleagues, the “American apostles” of my book’s title. Western attitudes toward Islam hold the center of my study, but Page 99 introduces the reader to nineteenth-century evangelicals’ equally profound contempt for Roman Catholicism, which they regarded, along with Islam, as the twin horns of the Anti-Christ. Religious periodicals routinely published missionary reports from the Mediterranean and elsewhere in the world that abounded in Catholic-bashing. That polemical barrage played an important role in igniting violence against Catholics in the United States during the 1830s and 1840s, just as missionary magazines exerted a formative influence on American views of Islam.
Learn more about American Apostles at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue