The Spice of Popery

Paul Harvey

The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American FrontierThis is the first of what will be several short posts over a few days covering new works especially on Catholicism and its relationship to Protestantism from about 1750-1880s, including (later) the posthumuously published book by the late and very lamented scholar Jon Gjerde, a wonderful man and historian at UC Berkeley who suddenly and tragically died a few years ago.

But first, a review from Choice of a new work which I wasn't familiar with before (and I know absolutely nothing about the topic, and barely even know where Maine is, so looking forward to learning), and should be of interest to many, and comes with an endorsement/blurb from our friend Historiann. After the jump below, more about the book from its website.

Chmielewski, Laura M. The spice of popery: converging Christianities on an early American frontier. Notre Dame, 2012. 366p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780268023072 pbk, $38.00. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.
With this clearly written, deeply researched book on the Maine frontier from 1690 to 1730, historian Chmielewski (Purchase College, SUNY) makes a notable contribution to the burgeoning and fascinating literature on the North American colonial borderlands. Recent works on colonial frontiers from New Mexico to Nova Scotia depict convoluted, conflicted zones of cultural as well as military and economic contacts among various Native American, African, and European peoples. Tales of suffering, opportunity, and personal and social transformations abound. Besides adding another region to the emergent interpretation, the author develops an oft-neglected theme noted in the subtitle: "converging Christianities." Chmielewski's nuanced understanding of the relevant varieties of Catholicism and Protestantism, their commonalties as well as oppositions, should inspire other scholars of colonial America. The author's grasp of the social and political consequences and contexts of these religious expressions, including material culture, is also exemplary. The central focus on the varied experiences and decisions of New England captives in French Canada gives the analysis lively immediacy as well as abundant illustration of the author's main points. A remarkable book deserving wide readership. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries. -- R. P. Gildrie, emeritus, Austin Peay State University

From the book's website:

The title for this work comes from the Puritan minister Increase Mather, who used the colorful metaphor to express his concern about the state of English Protestantism. Like many New Englanders, Mather’s fears about the creeping influence of French Catholicism stemmed from English conflicts with France that spilled over into the colonial frontiers from French Canada. The most consistently fragile of these frontiers was the Province of Maine, notorious for attracting settlers who had “one foot out the door” of New England Puritanism. It was there that English Protestants and French Catholics came into frequent contact. The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American Frontier shows how, between the volatile years of 1688 to 1727, the persistence of Catholic people and culture in New England’s border regions posed consistent challenges to the bodies and souls of frontier Protestants.
Taking a cue from contemporary observers of religious culture, as well as modern scholars of early American religion, social history, material culture, and ethnohistory, Laura M. Chmielewski explores this encounter between opposing Christianities on an early American frontier. She examines the forms of lived religion and religious culture—enacted through gestures, religious spaces, objects, and discreet religious expressions—to elucidate the range of experience of its diverse inhabitants: accused witches, warrior Jesuits, unorthodox ministers, indigenous religious thinkers, voluntary and involuntary converts. Chmielewski offers a nuanced perspective of the structured categories of early American Christian religious life, suggesting that the terms “Protestant” and “Catholic” varied according to location and circumstances and that the assumptions accompanying their use had long-term consequences for generations of New Englanders.

“In this fresh interpretation of early New England, Laura Chmielewski reminds us that religious borders were just as unsettling as interethnic frontiers. Using both textual evidence and material culture to craft an intimate history of religious violence, captivity, and conversion, she demonstrates the ways in which ‘the spice of popery’ bound Protestants and Catholics together and shaped Maine’s distinctive religious diversity.” — Ann M. Little, Colorado State University


Historiann said…
Thanks for noticing Laura's book! I was very happy with the way it turned out, and that CHOICE review does it justice.

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