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Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular…
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Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New… (edição: 1990)

de David D. Hall

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This book tells an extraordinary story of the people of early New England and their spiritual lives. It is about ordinary people--farmers, housewives, artisans, merchants, sailors, aspiring scholars--struggling to make sense of their time and place on earth. David Hall describes a world of religious consensus and resistance: a variety of conflicting beliefs and believers ranging from the committed core to outright dissenters. He reveals for the first time the many-layered complexity of colonial religious life, and the importance within it of traditions derived from those of the Old World. We see a religion of the laity that was to merge with the tide of democratic nationalism in the nineteenth century, and that remains with us today as the essence of Protestant America.… (mais)
Membro:mcsteve34
Título:Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England
Autores:David D. Hall
Informação:Harvard University Press (1990), Paperback, 336 pages
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Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England de David D. Hall

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Introduction

This is a study of popular religion, but in defining popular religion as a faith of the people Hall is not cordoning this off from the religion of the ministerial class. Unlike Europe, there was no great divide between the aristocratic clergy (and their bourgeois allies) ranged against a superstitious populace. Heirs of the Reformation, the protestants of the middling sort that came to New England were not of a separate social order from their clergy. Nor were the clergy averse to incorporating much of the magical into their cosmology. Enriched by the leaven of near universal literacy, the New Englanders - lay and clergy alike - partook of a print culture that set them apart from the divisive world of Europe. Social, cultural and economic homogeneity was the cause for this unique set of conditions.

In this world of "middling sorts," clergy authority was always checked by lay involvement. Though not to say that the people were consistently "insubordinate", it was through contest and negotiation that leadership was shaped and accommodated the views of the people. Much of what happened was driven by the fact that those who came to the New England colonies were dissenters who believed generally in the value of a liberal market economy, as opposed to the mercantilism of the mother country. And this meant a more contested ecclesiastical authority as well.

In defining popular religion, Hall also wants to avoid being constrained by what happens within the meeting house. Instead, he tries to include "horse shed Christianity," or the less perfect observance of religious practice that took palace outside the bounds of formal practice. Above all, Hall argues for the pervasiveness of religious values in the popular culture a culture in which the meanings which people assigned to sacred events were not always derived from official clerical dispensation.

A World of Wonders

The colonists lived in a world where the supernatural intervention of both God and the devil were seen all around. The colonists came from an England where broadside ballads, chapbooks and pamphlets, as well as more weighty volumes called folios, spoke of "wonders" such as "[t]ales of witchcraft and the Devil, of comets, hailstorms, monster births, and apparitions." (p. 72) Thomas Beard's Theater of Gods Judgment, William Turner's Compleat History of the Most Remarkable Providences, and Stephen Batman's The Doome warning all men to Judgmente all used stories and images drawn from the same world as the broadsides and chapbooks. Learned and unschooled, all drew their lessons from these "wonder books," not least of which was the Bible itself.

The impact of the ancients was still ever present, especially as related to the meteorology of the Greeks and Romans. Elizabethans took very seriously the predictions of the weather in medieval and renaissance almanacs. With the coming of the Reformation, the resurgence of apocalyptic prophesy was added to the source of wonders. And as the men of learning wrestled with "monstrous births" and other phenomena under the rubric of "natural history," they found signs from heaven for the punishment of sin or apocalyptic warnings. Above all, however, the main source of wonders was God's Providence. In this way, the language of wonders was a universal one that all could speak.

This lore of wonders passed to the new world via the trans-Atlantic book trade. Along with the books came a mentality of wonders. Increase Mather's Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providence was firmly in the wonder book tradition, as were histories by Edward Johnson, William Bradford and John Winthrop. The notebooks of ministers and students also recorded wonder stories, such as the story of a baby at 30 weeks telling his nurse that "this is a hard world". Increase Mather heard of such tales and included them in the sermons he delivered and they made it into his written works. Colonists also believed in the prophetic power of dreams, in the presence of shape shifting dogs and the power of white magic to combat the Devil's black magic -- all of which drew heavily on the culture of folk religion from England. Tales included in Mather's Essay drew heavily on folk wisdom and lore.

And God's justice was also meted out in the form of providential wonders. John Winthrop recorded the intervention of the almighty in the drowning of drunkards, the special acts of providence that revealed murders' identities, the death of people who had worked on the Sabbath. But God's Providence worked to protect the righteous. As the minister at Roxbury, John Eliot, recorded - though two wayward servants who went to gather oysters were drown, a deacon's daughter who sustained a grievous head wound was healed. In an insecure world wracked with violence, the interpretation of wonders gave some semblance of meaning and order to life.

As in Reformation Europe, so Wonders were also caught up in the political struggles of the colonists. Anne Hutchinson, the prophetess eventually expelled form Boston and exiled to Rhode Island, was preaching against the local divines for teaching "works." A woman turning prophesy against the men in power, her wonders were interpreted as having been inspired by the Devil. Hutchinson and those who followed in her wake all used the language of wonders to undermine and attack political authority. "Crossing and recrossing a line that was difficult to fix, the radicals played on ambiguities intrinsic to the role of the prophet." (p. 98)

Ambiguities were also exploited by others to their own ends as well. Fortune tellers, healers and magicians all played upon this aspect of the world of wonders. Witchcraft trials took place, then, in a world of wonders where contexts over the meaning of wonders were also political contests. This was a world suffused with folk belief in the power of horseshoes and the ability to stop the evil power of a witch by making a cake of her urine. The leading elites, threatened by the use of magic for political ends which undermined their authority, moved to declare all prophesy off limits. Thomas Weld's report on the still births of Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson cast them as two instances of monstrous births among thirty and Hutchinson's prophesy was declared by the magistrates to have originated with Satan. Referring constantly to the Anabaptists and Thomas Muenster in Germany, the ministers of Boston decried the dangers of unregulated and uncontrolled interpretations.

As political events proceeded through King Philip's War, witchcraft trials to the dissolution of the charter government, further wars on Indians, the ministers of New England sought to interpret portents in ways that furthered their own agendas for reform. Among the most skillful in this art was Increase Mather, who sought to reinforce the special "covenanted" mission of New England through the interpretation of wonders. As contest over the meaning of wonders increased, Mather fought for control and sought to contain dissent. In so doing he became increasing selective in the wonders that he credited, participating in the more general "reform of popular culture" of the later 17th C. Separating themselves from the world of wonders, they also separated themselves from the popular culture as well. Increase's son Cotton continued along this path, shoring up the secular authority of the ministry by reasserting this group's claims to the exclusive ability to interpret wonders.

Increasingly the printers of chapbooks and broadsides began to diverge from the moral message contained in earlier published works. Nathaniel Crouch (penname R. Burton), for instance, published books meant to sell. Learned treatises, according to Couch, had been the undoing of many a printer. Instead, his publications in the 1680s aimed at the broadest possible audience. Couch dropped the moralizing of earlier works and focused on the entertainment value of wonders.

Other Readings:

See the University of Colorado at Boulder Plymouth and Puritan Historiography Site

Pekarek points to a number of interesting articles in his annotated bibliography of Puritanism in New England. His summary of David D. Hall's WMQ article "On Common Ground" is particularly helpful in understanding the flow of Puritan historiography up to 1987 and helps contextualize Hall's work on "Wonders."

(See also David D. Hall, "Religion and Society: Problems and Reconsiderations," in Greene and Pole, eds., Colonial British America.)

Francis T. Butts' "The Myth of Perry Miller" (AHR 1982) is also helpful in understanding the context of today's interest in a broader range of religious life and experience. Butts recounts the attacks by scholars directed at Miller as straw man, his "narrative of declension," as a supposed opponent of social history, and as one who denied change over time in the evolution of the Puritan mind. Butts seeks to rescue Miller from the attacks of the distortions of Robert G. Pope (in his denial of "declension') and the more genteel "distancing" of David D. Hall (in his claim that Miller denied change over time). As scholars have more recently pointed out, Miller was probably right about "decline" in New England -- but probably not about decline everywhere else. As Jon Butler points out, the American colonies were "awash in a sea of faith".
  mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
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This book tells an extraordinary story of the people of early New England and their spiritual lives. It is about ordinary people--farmers, housewives, artisans, merchants, sailors, aspiring scholars--struggling to make sense of their time and place on earth. David Hall describes a world of religious consensus and resistance: a variety of conflicting beliefs and believers ranging from the committed core to outright dissenters. He reveals for the first time the many-layered complexity of colonial religious life, and the importance within it of traditions derived from those of the Old World. We see a religion of the laity that was to merge with the tide of democratic nationalism in the nineteenth century, and that remains with us today as the essence of Protestant America.

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