Computational Stylistics and Jonathan Edwards

csgComputational Stylistics is an exciting and pioneering way to engage in literary and semantical analysis by employing statistical research. The Jagiellonian University and Polish Academy of Sciences has developed a website to share the fruit of their many projects employing this kind of research for the humanities. Here’s a brief description from the website about its project:

Computational Stylistics Group is a cross-institutional research team focused on computer-assisted text analysis, stylometry, authorship attribution, sentiment analysis, and the like stuff. The research projects conducted by the team members could be described as an intersection of linguistics, literary criticism, and computer sciences – however the best name here would be “Digital Humanities”. The group is based mostly in Kraków, at the Institute of Polish Language (Polish Academy of Sciences), but also at the Jagiellonian University and the University of Antwerp.

What is stylometry? Stylometry is the process of employing statistical analysis of variations in literary style between one writer and genre and another.

An excellent post from this new website explains its particular value for those interested in Colonial American historical studies. Project managers, including Dr. Michal Choiński, applied stylometry to around 300 sermons from the colonial era. Preachers of these sermons included: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Jonathan Parsons, Samuel Blair and Gilbert Tennent. The goal of applying this technique of statistical study was to establish the distinguishing features of each of these preachers and to investigate the relationships between them.

The below excerpt explains Dr. Michal Choiński’s conclusions about what light stylometry sheds on understanding the image of God in Edwards’ sermons, particularly the way the semantics of the image of God in Edwards’s sermons changed over time.

The research proves that the image of God in Edwards’ writings is both multifaceted and mutable. The complexity resides in the Almighty being simultaneously portrayed as an object of religious reverence and a dynamic sustainer of the visible world. Statistically, “an angry God” from Sinners or Future Punishment is but an addition to an otherwise deeply devotional and benevolent depiction. Also, central as Edwards’s image of God remains for most texts within the oeuvre, one can hardly claim it to be perdurable. Looking at the rich corpus of the studied texts from a wider comparative perspective and with the help of stylometry, we have been able to discern a stable evolution of the manner in which Edwards talks about God, a movement from the early sermons, towards the style of the treatises and philosophical writings.

This very interesting article goes on to discuss how Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield compare, as well as the relationship between Jonathan Edwards and his editor and literary agent, Thomas Foxcroft.

I recommend reading the full write up here…

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