Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World

Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World

Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World

Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World

Synopsis

The imperial expansion of Europe across the globe was one of the most significant events to shape the modern world. Among the many effects of this cataclysmic movement of people and institutions was the intermixture of cultures in the colonies that Europeans created. Protestant Empire is the first comprehensive survey of the dramatic clash of peoples and beliefs that emerged in the diverse religious world of the British Atlantic, including England, Scotland, Ireland, parts of North and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Beginning with the role religion played in the lives of believers in West Africa, eastern North America, and western Europe around 1500, Carla Gardina Pestana shows how the Protestant Reformation helped to fuel colonial expansion as bitter rivalries prompted a fierce competition for souls.

The English--who were latecomers to the contest for colonies in the Atlantic--joined the competition well armed with a newly formulated and heartfelt anti-Catholicism. Despite officially promoting religious homogeneity, the English found it impossible to prevent the conflicts in their homeland from infecting their new colonies. Diversity came early and grew inexorably, as English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics and Protestants confronted one another as well as Native Americans, West Africans, and an increasing variety of other Europeans. Pestana tells an original and compelling story of their interactions as they clung to their old faiths, learned of unfamiliar religions, and forged new ones. In an account that ranges widely through the Atlantic basin and across centuries, this book reveals the creation of a complicated, contested, and closely intertwined world of believers of many traditions.

Excerpt

The expansion of Europe from its peninsula into other parts of the globe was one of the most significant events to shape the modern world. Among the many effects of this cataclysmic movement of people and institutions was the intermixture of cultures that occurred in the colonies that Europeans created. Europeans crossed oceans, encountered native inhabitants, and interacted with them in a myriad of ways. What emerged from these encounters was, as historians James H. Merrell and Colin G. Calloway have pointed out, a new world for everyone involved. Central to the creation of this new world was a clash of religious beliefs and practices. As a result of cultural encounters, all religions were changed—European Christianity no less than Native American spirituality. When Europeans moved out into the Atlantic basin, they brought together the diverse religious traditions and experiences of people from three continents.

By 1800 Christianity had reached into sub-Saharan Africa, both in the Kongo, where Portuguese Catholics had introduced Catholicism centuries before, and more recently in Sierra Leone, a new colony under British authority peopled by Protestant settlers of African descent who were strongly committed to the Christian faith. Native religions had been reshaped by the introduction of Christianity in vast areas of North and South America. Roman Catholicism had become an indigenous religion over centuries of adaptation in Latin America to the south and in Quebec to the north, while Protestant Christianity had made serious inroads in some communities in the broad central swath of North America. the movement of peoples with their beliefs and practices had spread not just Christianity generally but competing versions of that faith, so that in Anglophone areas of the Atlantic world a variety of Christian faiths were flourishing and vying for adherents, from Baptists and Methodists to Moravians and Quakers, by 1800. Though Christianity was dominant among the new religions, the other Old World . . .

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