With the Program: Mary Baker Eddy and American Bible Culture

May 3, 2019

As Programs Manager at The Mary Baker Eddy Library, I found a book title immediately grabbing my attention not long ago: Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States, by Seth Perry (2018: Princeton University Press). I wanted to know more about this new scholarship. How might it relate to Mary Baker Eddy? Would this book offer meaningful content for a program here at the Library?

Exploring Perry’s book, I learned some interesting things. For example, after achieving independence from Great Britain, the US saw a boom in Bible publishing and printing, which took on a decidedly democratic character. It embraced the common man…and, significantly, the common woman.

“At the turn of the nineteenth century,” Perry writes, “the burgeoning American bible market . . . imagined a reader who was in many ways the inverse of the dominant religious authority of the eighteenth century: rather than educated, upper-class, and male, this reader was some combination of barely literate, lower-class and female.”

Mary Baker Eddy was highly literate. She wasn’t lower class by birth and upbringing. But she was, of course, a woman. A woman who grew up with the Bible, committing herself to ongoing inquiry into its meaning and relevance to contemporary humanity.

As Perry observes, the female reader of the Bible was at the forefront of what American Bible culture would become in the nineteenth century. “Her presence in early national print bible culture was fundamental to the era’s creation of new religious subjects,” he says, “because it created space for readers to imagine the self-sufficient authority of their own bible reading.” That for me was a highly significant statement in relation to Eddy, both as a female reader of the Bible and as the discoverer and founder of Christian Science. It stirred questions about how to view the role of American Bible print culture in the story of Mary Baker Eddy and in the early years of the religious movement she founded.

We’re delighted that Seth Perry is speaking about Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States at The Mary Baker Eddy Library on Thursday evening, May 9. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT. Please join us on-site or online for “In the beginning”…—America and Bible culture. See what questions and thoughts it may stir for you.
                                                                                                                            —Jonathon Eder

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