THE NEW ENGLAND SOUL: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England by Harry S. Stout

THE NEW ENGLAND SOUL: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

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KIRKUS REVIEW

University of Connecticut professor Stout researched this monumental study of preaching in early New England with a labor that might make Hercules blush: he spent nine years reading 2000 pre-Revolution sermons, most of them still in manuscript form. The result? A fluent, wide-ranging report on the most religious era in the history of this profoundly religious nation. For at least 150 years preceding 1776, the sermon was the only regular public medium of communication in America. Sermons ""combined religious, educational, and journalistic functions, and supplied all the key terms necessary to understand existence in this world and the next."" Most sermons lasted 1-2 hours in length; the average churchgoer heard 7000 in a lifetime. Stout describes two basic types: the ""occasional"" sermon, delivered on weekdays and often addressed to political or social issues, and the Sunday sermon, which focused on the salvation of souls. Although many occasional sermons found their way into print, almost all Sunday sermons remain in manuscript form; thus Stout's industrious detective work unveils for the first time the week-in, week-out message heard by almost all New Englanders. In a nutshell, the lesson was this: the New World was an elect nation populated by ""People of the Word"" who kept God's light shining while darkness blanketed Europe--a view, it should be pointed out, still upheld in the White House today. Because sermons were the hub around which colonial religious life revolved, Stout's book also serves as a comprehensive history of religion in early America, from the prosecution of Anne Hutchinson in 1637 to the Great Awakening of the 1740's. So: a Baedecker to New England pulpit religion, with lots of material never before brought to light.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press