Roger Williams: Soul Man: How an Eccentric 17th-Century Preacher Helped Bring Religious Liberty to America

Church & State, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview

Roger Williams: Soul Man: How an Eccentric 17th-Century Preacher Helped Bring Religious Liberty to America


Edwin S. Gaustad is a professor of history and religious studies emeritus at the University of California, Riverside. He is an expert on Roger Williams, the 17th-century religious liberty pioneer and founder of Rhode Island. Gaustad is the author of several books, among them Church and State in America.

In his new book, Roger Williams (Oxford University Press), Gaustad examines the life of an important but often overlooked figure in the struggle for religious liberty and church-state separation in America.

Williams in 1644 warned about creating an opening "in the hedge, or wall of separation, between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." The language is similar to the "wall of separation between church and state" metaphor employed by Thomas Jefferson 158 years later, although there is no evidence Jefferson knew of Williams' phrase.

In this interview with Church & State, Gaustad discusses the life and ideas of Roger Williams. The book is available at online sellers such as amazon.com or at major bookstores.

Q. Who is Roger Williams and why should Americans of today care about him?

A. Williams was a 17th-century English clergyman who became part of the "great migration" to Massachusetts in the early 1630s. Americans today should care about him because he took major steps to move America, early on, from the medieval to the modern world. Because the notion of a separation of the civil from the ecclesiastical estates was such a novel one, such an unsettling one, Williams had to return again and again to that startling theme. He believed the private sanctuary of the soul should never be invaded by the clumsy, brutal hands of the state. The liberty of the soul was "off limits" to the reach of the civil magistrate.

Q. You've written about Williams quite a bit. What accounts for your strong interest in him?

A. My interest in him relates principally to his historic contributions to religious liberty--a full freedom in matters of the soul.

Q. When most Americans think of religious freedom, they think of figures like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Why have the accomplishments of Roger Williams been overlooked?

A. It helped that both Jefferson and Madison were presidents of the United States, and therefore hard to overlook. Also, they were deeply involved in the critical founding years of the new nation. Williams' only possible competitor in the 17th century on matters of religious freedom was William Penn, who arrived in America a half-century later. He is better remembered because his colony was a very successful one, and his name is "built in" to that colony's history.

Q. In what way were Williams' views on the relationship between religion and government so unusual for the times?

A. Williams advocated the scariest political heresy of his day: namely, that a civil institution could survive without the supporting arm of the church. He was alone in this view in all New England, alone in most of the other colonies, and certainly alone in his own homeland of England.

Q. Williams declared that all who sought to live in peace could come to his Rhode Island colony regardless of what they believed about religion. It was a noble sentiment. How did it work out in practice?

A. Rhode Island did well as a sanctuary for all those persecuted for cause of conscience: for example, Quakers and Jews. But his fellow citizens were often quarrelsome, bickering and uncivil--to Williams' disappointment and dismay.

Q. Rhode Island's Royal Charter of 1663 guaranteed all residents the right to "freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Roger Williams: Soul Man: How an Eccentric 17th-Century Preacher Helped Bring Religious Liberty to America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.