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Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England

by David D. Hall

Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-679-44117-5
Publisher: Knopf

Reconsideration of state- and community-building by American Puritans of the mid-1600s.

Playing upon the term “reform,” Hall (Divinity/Harvard Univ.; Ways of Writing: The Practice and Politics of Text-Making in Seventeenth-Century New England, 2008 etc.) explores how the American Puritans set about a process of political and social reform that mirrored, yet surpassed, that of their English counterparts. “Amid the tumult of English popular politics of the 1640s,” writes the author, “the colonists were enacting an ‘English Revolution’ of their own.” In an attempt to eschew the overbearing authoritarianism the colonists had left England to avoid, the Puritans created communities marked by what could be seen as a proto-democratic political ethic. However, Hall goes to some length to remind his readers that such terms as “liberal” and “authoritarian” would have been lost on the Puritans, and indeed are of little help to modern scholars in understanding the colonists’ motives and results. Not only did congregational life largely define New England statecraft, reformed theology also defined public discourse. Another theme exposed by the author is the modern-day tendency to see Puritan New England either as a vanguard of liberties or as a touchstone of theocracy. Again, Hall argues that in no case was the period that simplistic. Though the author demonstrates rigorous scholarship, the book is not accessible to general readers. Aimed at an audience already familiar with both Puritan New England and the English Civil Wars, the narrative is often opaque and dry.

Reserved for the scholar’s bookshelf.