Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Synopsis

In the seventeenth-century English Atlantic, religious beliefs and practices played a central role in creating racial identity. English Protestantism provided a vocabulary and structure to describe and maintain boundaries between insider and outsider. In this path-breaking study, Heather Miyano Kopelson peels back the layers of conflicting definitions of bodies and competing practices of faith in the puritan Atlantic, demonstrating how the categories of "white," "black," and "Indian" developed alongside religious boundaries between "Christian" and "heathen" and between "Catholic" and "Protestant."

Faithful Bodies focuses on three communities of Protestant dissent in the Atlantic World: Bermuda, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In this "puritan Atlantic," religion determined insider and outsider status: at times Africans and Natives could belong as long as they embraced the Protestant faith, while Irish Catholics and English Quakers remained suspect. Colonists' interactions with indigenous peoples of the Americas and with West Central Africans shaped their understandings of human difference and its acceptable boundaries. Prayer, religious instruction, sexual behavior, and other public and private acts became markers of whether or not blacks and Indians were sinning Christians or godless heathens. As slavery became law, transgressing people of color counted less and less as sinners in English puritans' eyes, even as some of them made Christianity an integral part of their communities. As Kopelson shows, this transformation proceeded unevenly but inexorably during the long seventeenth century.

Excerpt

To the casual observer, the crystals appear to be inert lumps of quartz, roughly shaped. But to the seventeenth-century individuals who placed them in the corners of their new building at Magunkaquog in the heart of their homeland, they were hope and insurance for the future, connection to the past, and an active shaping of their present. the crystals not only expressed the intent to continue the People’s place in the land that was theirs, to sink deep into the earth in the face of all the changes that followed on the heels of the Coat-men who had invaded it—often clumsily yet so destructively—they were one means by which to accomplish that goal. By the time the People buried the crystals beneath where they would gather to join in words and song in ways their ancestors had not known, they knew the Coat-men called themselves English and that their new way to reach other-than-human persons was called being a Christian. They had come to live in this place to be with their kin and others who had lost much so that together they could practice the new forms of interaction with the unseen members of their community. When Daniel Gookin, the puritan missionary and superintendent of Indian affairs for the colony of Massachusetts, came to encourage them in 1674, they gave the entire building over to his use during his visit. He prayed with them, briefly joining with them as one of their number. But most English living in what they called New England did not think that it was possible for Indians and English to be members of a congregation. Increasingly after the violence of the conflict the English came to call King Philip’s War (after the Pokanoket . . .

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