The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England


"Both the sources he employs and the scope of his study set his work apart from all that have precede it...The first study of New England preaching to span the entire colonial period...very important book."

- Journal of American History

"Simply breathtaking in scope. No one else has dared to grapple with the full sweep of Puritan preaching form the founding of New England through the American Revolution."

- Nathan O. Hatch, University of Notre Dame

"A massive achievement will stand as the definitive work on this important subject."

- Reviews in American History

"Impressive, imaginative, sensible, and lucid."

- Donald G. Matthews, University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill

"[Stout] has created a field of scholarship hitherto neglected - the manuscript sermon as a source of religious culture in colonial times. More than that, he has shown the extent to which sermon notes add to our knowledge of the times, notably for the period of the Great Awakening. And he has done so with great insight."

- New England Quarterly

"So soundly based on exhaustive research and so lucid in presentation, that even its most surprising conclusions carry conviction. An impressive achievement."

- Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

"One of the most impressive studies of Puritan New England society to appear in this century....Throughout the work, Stout enriches, supplements and revises much of the current knowledge about colonial New England. His language, which is both precise and playful, makes the volume a delight to read."

-The Historian

"Will surely become a benchmark in the study of early American history and culture."

-Journal of the American Academy of Religion


If Harry Stout’s The New England Soul remains a seminal book for its compelling conclusions about the sermon in colonial New England, it also remains significant for its method. Brief recital of a personal experience can highlight Stout’s noteworthy methodological independence. Sometime in the mid-1970s I was privileged to attend a lecture by Alan Heimert who was expanding upon themes from his much-noticed 1966 book, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution. After the lecture there was time for a brief private conversation during which I asked him why he thought that Benjamin Colman of Boston’s Brattle Street Church, who is commonly described as a “liberal,” had been so friendly to George Whitefield when the celebrated evangelist first came to New England. Heimert’s response referred to the published sources, of which he as a master, that shed light on my question. I then asked, “but what about manuscript evidence?” He paused, cast a patient glance in my direction, and replied to the effect that “Perry never bothered with all that dust and grime.”

It was a revealing comment about how things stood with early American historians in the 1970s. On the one side was the still lively ghost of Heimert’s mentor and colleague Perry Miller, whose intense mining of published sermons and treatises had led him to champion the significance of a “New England mind” for truth, the human condition, and the future destiny of American civilization. On the other side was the still relatively new “new social history” whose leaders like John Demos, Michael Zuckerman, Philip Greven, and Kenneth Lockridge were successfully exploiting a wide range of unpublished sources to open up complex local histories of land distribution, generational anxieties, expanding literacy, and economic development. It was as if two New Englands existed in the same historical space, but with few connections between them.

The New England Soul appeared half an academic generation after the second of these two approaches had succeeded so well that earlier attempts at grand intellectual synthesis by Miller, Heimert, and their generation were coming to seem quaint or passé. Harry Stout’s achievement was to embrace the “dust and . . .

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