By the Rivers of Babylon, where the Pilgrims Wept
In The Book, David Wallace-Wells has a nice review of a book that will interest some of you, especially you colonialists and economic history types: Nick Bunker, Make Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their World. I haven't read this book, but the review is interesting, and ends with a nice passage:
The unfortunate emphasis in Making Haste on pilgrim entrepreneurship, and its pointed disinterest in Calvinist theology, is telling, and natural enough. Though the United States remains in some sense a Christian nation—churchgoing, evangelical, exceptionalist—the strange theology of our Puritan forebears is far more foreign to us, and far more difficult to reckon with, than their scuffling pre-market mercantilism. American religion was not really invented until the nineteenth century, and the expansive denominations that emerged, largely on the frontier, in that Second Great Awakening represent perhaps as profound and complete a repudiation of the Puritans' early modern Protestantism as that Protestantism had been a rejection of the establishment Catholicism that governed Europe in the centuries before Luther. In the severe Mayflower Calvinism of William Bradford and his Plymouth pilgrims, predestination was an inscrutable covenant, piety a gratuity from fear and trembling, and prayer an expression of desperate agnosticism. In the inviting creed of the new American religions, whose triumphal culture we still inhabit today, salvation was there for the taking. All one had to do was claim it.
Update: Some of you all were taking my intended joke about not being interested in the Pilgrims in the slightest a little too seriously, so have changed the above post accordingly. Sorry all you Pilgrim-heads, didn't mean to offend!
The scholarly Jeremy Bangs, who has made a career out of studying the Pilgrims, presents a contrasting view of this material in his book Strangers and Pilgrims, Travelers and Sojourners, which Randall referenced some time ago on the blog. That is the place to go for the most in-depth primary source research on the Pilgrims' origins in Leiden and sojourn to America.