The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Navigation: Quick Links

Rafters and skylights in the English Building

Colloquium Archive

Heather Blain

Name: Heather Blain, English

Presentation Title: “Madness and Methodism: Ways of Knowing in the Early American Republic”

Date: May 3, 2012


Is someone who falls into convulsions, cries out in ecstasy, claims to have visions, or speaks in tongues, insane? For anti-Methodists of the 18th and early 19th centuries, yes; for Methodists of the same era, no.

I look at one case of an unexceptional American Methodist woman mystic: Catherine Livingston Garrettson, wife of circuit-rider Freeborn Garrettson. Through her dream and spiritual journals, Garrettson practiced a mysticism common to women and men of the era, but ironically inaccessible to founder John Welsey himself. Using Locke’s concept of the mind and new models of the body, Wesley and others walked a fine line between mysticism as madness and mysticism as a legitimate way to interpret the Will of God. Nonetheless, for Methodists such as Garrettson, the mind and body, coupled with a disciplined writing practice, was a way of knowing. I argue that this alternate way of knowing sheds light on Enlightenment rhetorical theory, allowing us to 1) see the interdependent relationship of mind and body and 2) conceive of the body as an apparatus of knowledge for the mind.