Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics & Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England

Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics & Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England

Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics & Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England

Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics & Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England

Synopsis

"Throughout most of the eighteenth century and particularly during the religious revivals of the Great Awakening, evangelical women in colonial New England participated vigorously in major church decisions, from electing pastors to disciplining backsliding members. After the Revolutionary War, however, women were excluded from political life, not only in their churches but in the new republic as well. Reconstructing the history of this change, Susan Juster shows how a common view of masculinity and femininity shaped both radical religion and revolutionary politics in America. Juster compares contemporary accounts of Baptist women and men who voice their conversion experiences, theological opinions, and preoccupation with personal conflicts and pastoral controversies. At times, the ardent revivalist message of spiritual individualism appeared to sanction sexual anarchy. According to one contemporary, the revival attempted "to make all things common, wives as well as goods." The place of women at the center of evangelical life in the mid-eighteenth century, Juster finds, reflected the extent to which evangelical religion itself was perceived as "feminine" - emotional, sensual, and ultimately marginal." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Though the men and women portrayed in this book are distant in time and intellectual orientation, I would hope that they might recognize at least something of themselves in what follows. They would find my reading of their faith in gendered terms strange if not entirely incomprehensible; they would be distinctly uncomfortable with my attempts to place the inner reality of their religious experiences in the context of the larger political struggles of colony and empire; they would reject emphatically any suggestion that their commitment to sexual egalitarianism be judged by the standards of the profane world (including the world of academic feminism). But I would hope that the evocation of the evangelical sense of fellowship as one not bounded by conventional notions of time and space, a fellowship in which saints enjoyed a "glorious Oneness" with one another unmindful of the secular distinctions of wealth, status, and gender which awaited outside the meetinghouse, would strike a familiar chord. The language and cadences of evangelical religion have always struck me as providing a particularly powerful way to understand (indeed to construct) self and community, and I hope that some of the experiential flavor of evangelicalism comes through in this book, despite my efforts to encase it in the categories and analytical structures of gender history.

Throughout this book I have used the case of the Baptists of New England to illustrate the experience of evangelical Protestants more generally. The colony of Rhode Island, that refuge of religious outcasts and scourge of the Puritan establishment, was home to the first Baptist congregations in New England. Though few Baptist communities could be found outside the commercial centers of Newport and Providence in the seventeenth century, by the early eighteenth groups of missionaries from Rhode Island began to cross the border into Connecticut to assist in establishing sister churches. Despite fierce resistance on the part of the Congregational establishment, the Standing Order, these missionaries succeeded in founding a small congregation at Groton in 1704; by 1740, the number of Baptist churches in the entire colony of Connecticut stood only at three. These fledgling societies . . .

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