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Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England

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ISBN-13: 978-0674962163
ISBN-10: 0674962168
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hall, history professor at Boston University, proffers as the subject of his sixth book "religion as lay men and women knew and practiced it" in 17th century New England. He stresses the significance of the Protestant Reformation in Europe as a people's movement that emphasized the vernacular, as in the Book of Common Prayer, and prepared the ground for spare, ritual-less American Christianity, as exemplified by Cotton Mather's. Hall shows that religion in New England was grounded in almost-universal literacy, enabling colonists to be independent thinkers, even as they argued over dissent, witchcraft and spirituality. His thesis of the religious empowerment of lay people contributes importantly to our understanding of the American heritage.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Noted colonial historian Hall has written an excellent treatment of 17th-century New England religion as it was practiced by the vast majority of the population, not by the clergy. Accepting the current view that the laity absorbed much clerical teaching while adding elements of popular culture to religious practice, he stresses the literacy of ordinary New Englanders and the importance of printers as agents of cultural transmission. An essential purchase for academic libraries, this work offers great insight into Puritan rituals, attitudes toward the natural word, and the creative tension between Puritan laity and clergy.
- Susan A. Stussy, St. Norbert Coll., De Pere, Wis.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674962168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674962163
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By ggcon on May 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Hall uses the popular religion of early New England to argue that for clergy and lay people alike religion was a part of everyday life, and although the clergy and lay people's religious interpretations of events could differ their choices of interpretation were limited by their shared culture. Hall argues that the vast majority of the early New Englanders shared a common middle class background and a common religious background influenced by the Reformation. Both the clergy and lay people agreed that it was especially important for each person to be able to read the Bible on his own. But, the power to read the Bible also gave lay people the confidence to have interpretations of the Bible that differed from those of their ministers. The belief in wonders, supernatural events or extraordinary events (earthquakes, meteors, etc.), was a remnant of their Elizabethan culture. Both clergy and lay people attributed religious meanings to wonders, with the clergy sometimes writing popular books detailing wonders. The popularity of these stories encouraged the printing of wonder books not written by clergy as well. By the later 1600's, the clergy were increasingly attributing wonders to explainable natural events, but with the self-confidence gained by their literacy lay people still often gave religious significance to natural events. Their shared culture made universal literacy extremely important, but literacy empowered lay people to disagree with clergy sanctioned interpretations of Scripture. This empowerment of the lay people went so far as to have them feel confident enough to disagree with their ministers over the issue of sacraments, particularly baptism and the rites of the Last Supper. This confidence also gave lay people the ability to break rituals, such as confession, weddings (dancing even though it was prohibited), and sickness (relying on doctors and folk medicine instead of only on prayer).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By ninjasuperstar on March 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
In Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment, David Hall makes a strong case for defining popular religion in early New England as an interdependent endeavor influenced by both clerical and lay forces. Hall analyzes the relationships of the clerical and lay populations at the book market, in the meetinghouse, and during the performance of rituals. He asserts that these locations act as significant social and religious intersections in which the clergy and the lay population must negotiate their differences. The consensuses they reach are often unstable and must be renegotiated, but this seems to be the major impetus behind Hall's work: Popular religion is about negotiation, market competition, meetinghouse parleys, and arbitrated ritualism.

The final chapter of the text is a treat of sorts - selections from and analysis of the diary of Samuel Sewell. Sewell's writings bring Hall's book together in the words of a real person who lived in Early New England. I recommend this book for its intelligence, clarity, and unique subject matter.
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By Walker on July 10, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very helpful for my research. Insightful.
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