The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728

The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728

The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728

The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728

Synopsis

In this classic work of American religious history, Robert Middlekauff traces the evolution of Puritan thought and theology in America from its origins in New England through the early eighteenth century. He focuses on three generations of intellectual ministers--Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather--in order to challenge the traditional telling of the secularization of Puritanism, a story of faith transformed by reason, science, and business. Delving into the Mathers' private papers and unpublished writings as well as their sermons and published works, Middlekauff describes a Puritan theory of religious experience that is more creative, complex, and uncompromising than traditional accounts have allowed. At the same time, he portrays changing ideas and patterns of behavior that reveal much about the first hundred years of American life.

Excerpt

When I wrote The Mathers (1971), the study of Puritanism was well established; indeed, it constituted a subfield in both the history of religion and intellectual history. Some historians considered it virtually a field in and of itself, set off by the depth and sophistication of its scholarship. Several of the great American historians of this century had given it a wonderful foundation and enormous energy.

An obvious beginning point in what became a flood of scholarship on Puritan experience in seventeenth-century New England does not exist, but the splendid studies of Kenneth Murdock and Samuel Eliot Morison can surely serve as exemplary texts. In 1926, Harvard University Press published Murdock’s Increase Mather, a biography that is still worth reading. Morison provided books and articles—among them studies of Harvard, Puritan ideas, and the founders of New England—that suggested how fertile a field the study of Puritanism in America might become. Both Murdock and Morison attracted students eager to study at their feet and both—Morison in particular—wrote with such clarity and grace as to draw educated laymen to their writings.

Morison and Murdock had broad interests and their work was . . .

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