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Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism Hardcover – January 31, 1994

3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Brilliant...Attuned to the insights of recent literary theory, Knight shows how that assertion of an early unity influenced the idiom of later canonical American authors. Her book is both a rigorous work of scholarship and an artful plea for intellectual diversity. (Times Literary Supplement)

Knight offers nuanced and sensitive interpretations of many Puritan texts, teasing out differences of emphasis and sensibility within the widely shared religious culture of early New England. She demonstrates that a broadly consistent Puritan theology could support strikingly different interpretations in the hands of particular preachers and writers. (Eric Hinderaker Religious Studies Review)

In this pioneering and provocative book, adapted from the author's Harvard dissertation, Janice Knight offers a most helpful, if controversial, corrective to one of the chief historiographical conclusions regarding American Puritanism of the first-half of the seventeenth century…'Orthodoxies in Massachusetts presents an immensely provocative and cogently argued thesis, debunking the older myth of Puritan monolith… Janice Knight has shown the other strand of Puritan orthodoxy, the Sibbesian-Cottonian tradition, and how the articulated resistance of this group before, during, and after the Antinomian controversy can help to contextualize and rectify our reading of early American Puritanism. (Paul C-H Lim Westminster Theological Journal)

Knight's work is passionately written...Whether or not one has an investment in the ongoing debates about the import of New England Puritanism, Knight reminds us that New Englanders sought passionately to understand better their relationship to the divine and how to make it evident in their social relations. Orthodoxies in Massachusetts demands that we acknowledge the varieties of religious experience this search engendered. (Philip F. Gura William and Mary Quarterly)

Janice Knight has given us a provocative and elegant book that yields new understandings of Puritanism in old and New England...This is a work of intellectual and literary history of a very high order. (Mark Valeri Journal of Religion)

From the Back Cover

Reexamining religious culture in seventeenth-century New England, Janice Knight discovers a contest of rival factions within the Puritan orthodoxy. Arguing that two distinctive strains of Puritan piety emerged in England prior to the migration to America, Knight describes a split between rationalism and mysticism, between theologies based on God's command and on God's love. A strong countervoice, expressed by such American divines as John Cotton, John Davenport, and John Norton and the Englishmen Richard Sibbes and John Preston, articulated a theology rooted in Divine Benevolence rather than Almighty Power, substituting free testament for conditional covenant to describe God's relationship to human beings. Knight argues that the terms and content of orthodoxy itself were hotly contested in New England and that the dominance of rationalist preachers like Thomas Hooker and Peter Bulkeley has been overestimated by scholars. Establishing the English origins of these differences, Knight rereads the controversies of New England's first decades as proof of a continuing conflict between these two religious ideologies. The Antinomian Controversy provides the focus for a new understanding of the volatile processes whereby orthodoxies are produced and contested. This book gives voice to this alternative piety within what is usually read as the univocal orthodoxy of New England, and shows the political, social, and literary implications of those differences.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First edition (January 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674644875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674644878
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,726,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Janice Knight argues that the standard scholarly portrait of American Puritanism stands to be corrected and supplemented. She begins by observing that from Cotton Mather to Perry Miller, historians have portrayed American Puritans as a unified group that upheld a coherent orthodoxy. Knight, on the other hand, hears what she calls "significant differences and alternative voices within Puritan culture" (2). In fact, she identifies two distinct groups with well-known leaders in each one. Knight distinguishes between what she terms the "Intellectual Fathers," roughly equivalent to Miller's orthodoxy, and the "Spiritual Brethren." In contrast to the first group, the "Spiritual Brethren" embraced a "mystical strain of piety" that was "associated with Augustinianism." Another distinction was that, contrasted with the first group, the second emphasized "divine benevolence over power" and "converted biblical metaphors of kingship into ones of kinship" (3).

Knight says that the "Intellectual Fathers" were represented in England by William Perkins and, above all, William Ames. In America, the Amesian tradition was carried forward by Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, Peter Bulkeley, John Winthrop and most of the ministers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The "Spiritual Brethren," on the other hand, were led in England by John Preston and, above all, Richard Sibbes. In America, the Sibbesian tradition was upheld most prominently by John Cotton, John Davenport, and Henry Vane.

Assuming for the moment that Knight's distinction is valid, someone might ask how it could have been so consistently overlooked in the past. In response, Knight says that in England, in spite of their differences, Puritans were held to together by common enemies like Catholicism and High Anglicanism.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had to read this book for a seminary course. If you're not an academic, don't even try reading it. It is laborious. I am already well-versed in Separatist and Puritan history and still found it tedious. Besides this,the author's thesis is on thin ice because only one orthodoxy emerges from Knight's writing except for hair splitting and subtle differences in doctrine.
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