A Reforming People: Puritanism and Public Life in New England



3 comments
Paul Harvey

For you colonial America/Puritan New England/David Hall fans out there, here's a brief review, from Choice, of David Hall's newest, sure to be on oral exam reading lists soon if not already. More info is at the book's website.

Hall, David D
. A reforming people: Puritanism and the transformation of public life in New England. Knopf, 2011. 255p index ISBN 0-679-44117-4, $29.95; ISBN9780679441175, $29.95. Reviewed in 2011dec CHOICE.
Whenever Harvard Divinity School professor Hall, one of the premier scholars of American Puritanism, writes books and articles, those interested in early American history and culture should pay heed. This lucidly written, clearly organized work on New England "social practices and the workings of politics" from 1630 to 1650 argues convincingly that the members of New England's founding generation "brought into being churches, civil governments, and a code of laws that collectively marked them as the most advanced reformers of the Anglo-colonial world." The chief comparison is with English puritan reform efforts during the same era, concluding that the American Puritans nearly succeeded in implementing the Leveller program for transforming society and politics, hence the subtitle. The argument develops by describing the application of such concepts as participation, consent, and equity to practical questions of land distribution, legal procedures, church governance, and political action. Hall considers all New England colonies and uses Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a local illustration of both successes and tensions. This nuanced analysis of the Puritan reform impulse avoids both liberal and authoritarian stereotypes of Puritanism. As expected, a fine book. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries.

3 comments:

Anonymous at: December 12, 2011 at 9:57 PM said...

Though I have not read the book, the review makes the book sound intrigueing. The reason for this is that so many argue that America was founded on rigidly puritanical Christians. This arguement usually being used to support the contention that America was founded on Christian principles, and therefore is a Christian nation. I am studying this arguement in one of my classes. It kind of makes me want to see what this author has to say.

Bob Cobb at: January 3, 2012 at 10:09 AM said...

This was my area of graduate study and in that light, I have to say a big thank you to David Hall. For a long time I have argued in my classrooms that the old paradigms of Puritanism in America were not correct. I focused more on the internal disagreements in New England such as the early split into many competing communities, and the Half Way Covenant against the solidarity seen in the transatlantic conversation. Thomas Hooker saw New England as a place where, “People shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase: they shall…bloodhound like, trace the truth…” when he answered complaints from England in Summe and Survey. David Hall puts the development of that view into its proper context in the early history of the Massachusetts experiment. We are presented with a “Christian” community that was far more “civil” than some will want to believe. Bob Cobb

Bob Cobb at: January 3, 2012 at 10:10 AM said...

This was my area of graduate study and in that light, I have to say a big thank you to David Hall. For a long time I have argued in my classrooms that the old paradigms of Puritanism in America were not correct. I focused more on the internal disagreements in New England such as the early split into many competing communities, and the Half Way Covenant against the solidarity seen in the transatlantic conversation. Thomas Hooker saw New England as a place where, “People shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase: they shall…bloodhound like, trace the truth…” when he answered complaints from England in Summe and Survey. David Hall puts the development of that view into its proper context in the early history of the Massachusetts experiment. We are presented with a “Christian” community that was far more “civil” oriented than some will want to believe. Bob Cobb

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