WORLDS OF WONDER, DAYS OF JUDGMENT: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England by David D. Hall

WORLDS OF WONDER, DAYS OF JUDGMENT: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England

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Using a wealth of primary materials, Hall (History/Boston U,; author of several books including The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century, 1972) lays open the intellectual world of 17th-century New England with a central focus on the ""role of print culture in the making of popular religion."" Though repetitious and sometimes ploddingly presented, this is, indeed, a ""world of wonders,"" richer and more resonant than the popular notion of Puritan society. In his opening section, ""The Uses of Literacy,"" Hall presents a society of near-universal literacy where most read the Bible, the model for all printed matter. Both printers and clergy tapped into the Bible's authority in their own writings, creating marketplace competition about truth. The battle over interpretation continued as well, with the learned and the laity contesting power. Hall shows us the persistent folklore of the people, mixing at all levels with piety, as they saw prophecy, catastrophes, and monstrous births all around. Here, again, the marketplace had its influence, competing to offer tales of wonders, blurring the line between sacred material and secular. Chapters entitled ""The Meetinghouse"" and ""The Uses of Ritual"" present the official practice of religion: the separation of the elect and their covenant, along with the despair and terror it inspired; the uses of fasts, thanksgiving, and the public spectacle of confession and execution. In ""The Mental World of Samuel Sewall,"" Hall gives us a man representative of his time. Slow going, but still a significant contribution to the intellectual, popular, and religious history of America.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1989
Publisher: Knopf