Along with 75 religious studies scholars, historians, and others, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a conference on Ellen White, chief founder of Seventh-day Adventism. We’re meeting this weekend in Portland, Maine. Participants are hashing out White’s life, theology, views about sexuality and food, and her work as it relates to Adventism. The organizers of the conference plan a book project, which they describe succinctly: “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.”
“The book," claim its editors, "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.”
I know so little about White and Adventism—something I found on further investigation that I share with other participants Spencer Fluhman, Peggy Bendroth, and some others—that I hesitated to take part at first. But the organizers hoped that those outside the field would ask broad questions about research and writing. I rushed to my library to read Ron Numbers’s bio Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. Yet, I only had time to crack the book. So, into the breach. The papers/chapters have been fascinating. I never knew how much White, and her contemporary Adventists, was wrapped up in sex reform, visionary mysticism, the shouting Methodist tradition, hydrotherapy, vegetarianism, creationism . . . and on and on. Panels have been asking about the 19th-century context of Adventism, the legacy and influence of White, and the role of emotion in religious experience.
So . . . for a little more on the this topic I sat down with Ron Numbers to ask some questions about White and the movement. (See the youtube clip embedded here.) For the uninitiated (meaning, almost everyone), Numbers offers some great insight.