New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America

New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America

New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America

New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America

Synopsis

Many people believe that the piety of the Pilgrims typified early American religion. However, by the 1730s Catholics, Jews, and Africans had joined Native Americans, Puritans, and numerous other Protestants in the colonies. Jon Butler launches his narrative with a description of the state of religious affairs in both the Old and New Worlds. He explores the failure of John Winthrop's goal to achieve Puritan perfection, the controversy over Anne Hutchinson's tenacious faith, the evangelizing stamina of ex-slave and Methodist preacher Absalom Jones, and the spiritual resilience of the Catawba Indians. The meeting of these diverse groups and their varied use of music, dance, and ritual produced an unprecedented evolution of religious practice, including the birth of revivals. And through their daily interactions, these Americans created a living foundation for the First Amendment. After Independence their active diversity of faiths led Americans to the groundbreaking idea that government should abandon the use of law to support any religious group and should instead guarantee free exercise of religion for everyone.

Excerpt

Colonial America has always seemed an especially religious place. This identity derives from accounts of Spanish and French missions in the Caribbean, California, and Canada, of Puritans entertaining American Indians at Thanksgiving, and of Quakers establishing a tolerant society in Pennsylvania. In fact, the religious vitality of early America stretched far beyond these typical and sometimes mythical scenes. From the early 1600s to the American Revolution, colonial North America and the Caribbean teemed with an abundance of religions. The Spanish and French sought to conquer natives with missions and arms alike. American Indians and enslaved Africans transformed their own traditional religious practices, often under difficult circumstances. In Britain’s mainland colonies, Philadelphia emerged as a capital of American Protestantism, and new church buildings and new religious patterns, including revivals, utterly transformed the pre-Revolutionary spiritual landscape.

We cannot understand early America without understanding religion, and religion emerged everywhere in tumultuous, unexpected ways. Sometimes religion rested seamlessly within . . .

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