Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700

Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700

Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700

Puritanism and the Wilderness: The Intellectual Significance of the New England Frontier, 1629-1700

Excerpt

Studies of Puritan intellectual history traditionally stress the Old World origins of the New England mind. The writings of Samuel Eliot Morison, Perry Miller, and Edmund S. Morgan, to name the most influential historians of Puritanism, attest to the fecundity of this approach. As a transplanted culture, seventeenth-century New England provides a valuable and convenient example of the tenacity of a priori concepts. Religion, the benchmark of all seventeenth-century thought, obviously was transported to the New World in the minds of the first New England colonists. Moreover, the cluster of ideas which surrounded Puritan religion--the notion of the organic state, the belief in the just price, the mission to establish a city on a hill--also reflects the European basis of New England's intellectual apparatus.

But in describing the geography of the Puritan mind, these studies tend to minimize, if not neglect, the importance of the New World in restructuring and redefining Puritan ideas. Placed in a radically new environment --the raw American wilderness--Old World attitudes and concepts were forced to prove themselves anew. The novelty of the American situation impinged, at times subtly, at times brutally, at times to no apparent effect, upon the founders of New England. This dialogue between the European mind and the American environment can be . . .

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