Yesterday, Ken Minkema (Yale), Paul Helm (King’s College, London), and Michael McClenahan (Union Theological College, Belfast) addressed the inaugural conference of the Jonathan Edwards Centre (UK), which links researchers in the University of Liverpool and Queen’s University Belfast with colleagues in the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale. Each of these presenters referenced John Owen. Quite apart from the high quality of their observations on Edwards’ material cultures, his reception of Locke, and his doctrine of regeneration, one effect of their conversation was to highlight the disparity between scholarship on Owen and on Edwards. Of course, work on Owen has to conjure with limitations that do not affect Edwards studies: the material culture of Edwards’ intellectual life, with his voluminous papers, for example. But Edwards studies is also theorised in ways that have bypassed work on Owen. Perhaps one of the best ways of imagining the future of Owen studies is to look at recent work on Edwards and to consider whether there might be an equivalent project to be pursued in the previous century.
We need much more work on Owen’s networks in Essex in the 1640s; his administration of the university of Oxford; his place in the booming print culture of the revolutionary period, especially in the second-hand market; his relationship with Marvell and Bunyan; the ways in which he was perceived by his critics, including Milton; his influence on Locke; his late-career political activity; and his reception in Scotland and New England. We need more theological studies of Owen’s reception of medieval theology; his habits of exegesis; his view of Scripture and tradition; his view of the church; his view of the Catholic church, especially of the Jansenist movement; and especially his doctrine of baptism. And Owen studies also needs to incorporate more literary and philosophical approaches, and perhaps even a linguistic approach that would think about Owen’s neologisms and their significance – updating the OED when necessary!
Of course, much of this hangs on the need for proper critical editions, which have done so much to stimulate new ways of thinking about Edwards since the appearance of the first volume of the Yale UP edition in the 1950s. Unfortunately there doesn’t look to be any equivalent project for Owen’s works in preparation.
We have a long way to go to catch up with the Edwards industry.