The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America

By Pestana, Carla Gardina | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2012 | Go to article overview

The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America


Pestana, Carla Gardina, The Catholic Historical Review


The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America. Edited by Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda. [Early American Studies.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 201 1. Pp. vi, 401. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-812-24270-6.)

Collections of essays, despite the hazards of the form, have grown in popularity in recent years. Pulling together multiple pieces into a coherent whole is well beyond the ken of most such volumes, while editing to a high standard can be an elusive goal. Too often, a few high points are hidden among less noteworthy contributions. This collection avoids many of the pitfalls of the form. Most of the contributions are based on in-depth primary research or provide sweeping overviews chock-full of well-documented examples. A remarkably high number make important interventions into our understanding of early American religious differences and the tensions they engendered. With the exception of John Corrigan' s brief and focused analysis of the biblical texts referring to the Amalekites, the interpretive frameworks are broad. Although the essays vary in the extent of their innovation and substance, the quality is generally exemplary. The coherence across essays may be somewhat murky, and the editors' introduction does not entirely satisfy on this score, but the volume on balance makes a worthy addition to the literature on early American religious history.

More than half of the dozen contributions address the experience of a particular group or groups. William Pencak analyzes that of the Jews in early America, organized around the themes of antisemitism, toleration, and appreciation. Joyce Goodfriend surveys three groups who were outside the Reformed Protestant community that the governor of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant favored: Lutherans, Jews, and Quakers. Christopher Grasso explores the persistent prejudice against atheists and freethinkers in the early republic. Richard Pointer and Jon Sensbach canvass the experiences of Indians and Africans respectively. Not so much Catholics themselves as antiCatholic fears are the subject of Owen Stanwood's similarly broad essay. Andrew Murphy revisits the Keithian schism that sundered the early Pennsylvania Quaker community, endorsing the arguments made by George Keith himself about the causes of the controversy. …

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