Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (Religion in America)

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9780199379637: Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (Religion in America)
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Revising dominant accounts of Puritanism and challenging the literary history of sentimentalism, Sympathetic Puritans argues that a Calvinist theology of sympathy shaped the politics, religion, rhetoric, and literature of early New England. Scholars have often understood and presented sentimentalism as a direct challenge to stern and stoic Puritan forebears; the standard history traces a cult of sensibility back to moral sense philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment, not Puritan New England. Abram C. Van Engen has unearthed pervasive evidence of sympathy in a large archive of Puritan sermons, treatises, tracts, poems, journals, histories, and captivity narratives. He demonstrates how two types of sympathy -- the active command to fellow-feel (a duty), as well as the passive sign that could indicate salvation (a discovery) -- permeated Puritan society and came to define the very boundaries of English culture, affecting conceptions of community, relations with Native Americans, and the development of American literature.

Van Engen re-examines the Antinomian Controversy, conversion narratives, transatlantic relations, Puritan missions, Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative -- and Puritan culture more generally -- through the lens of sympathy. Demonstrating and explicating a Calvinist theology of sympathy in seventeenth-century New England, the book reveals the religious history of a concept that has previously been associated with more secular roots.

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About the Author:


Abram C. Van Engen is an Assistant Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, where he researches and teaches early American literature, history, and culture. Van Engen received his Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University in 2010, earning the Hagstrum Prize for best dissertation in English.

Review:


"Van Engen's gracefully written study, both original and informed, is a pleasure and a provocation. His reframing of some of early America's most studied moments requires that readers press a kind of reset button on familiar, even iconic, texts and moments. Puritan sympathy invites a reconsideration of the essential meaning and influence of Puritan sensibility- not on 'America' or the 'American self,' but on reader and genre, particularly as a precursor to the novel."-- Eileen Razzari Elrod, American Literary History


"[I]ts graceful and accessible style would make it an ideal supplementary text for an undergraduate course in colonial American literature."--Baird Tipson, The Historian


"Sympathetic Puritans adds a much-needed interpretation of Puritan social sentiment to the existing early New England Studies corpus. Van Engen's analysis is a thoroughgoing unmasking of seventeenth century Puritan sympathy that provides a more nuanced understanding of ecclesial and civil communalism in the New England colonies. There is much to commend in this work, but its chief accomplishment appears to be Van Engen's revelation that the New England Puritans inherited a Calvinistic theology that logically posited sympathy and 'fellow feeling' among co-inheritors of divine election. Henceforward any characterization of the Puritans as legalistic authoritarians must contend with Van Engen's substantive discoveries."--Reading Religion


"Van Engen s telling of New England s early history contrasts substantially from others written over the past decade...Sympathetic Puritans represents a largely successful effort to portray the Puritans as they understood themselves and their enterprise. Van Engen s scholarship is sound, thoroughly researched, and marked by a sensitive, sympathetic analysis of abundant evidence testifying to the centrality of this facet of Puritan experience."--Journal of American History


"Abram Van Engen offers a fresh perspective on early New England s religious culture--no small achievement given the prodigious amount of scholarship on the subject....A cogently argued and remarkably well-written book."--New England Quarterly Review


"Focusing on the importance of the affection that bound Puritans together, Abram Van Engen illuminates an important and yet neglected aspect of the society that speaks primarily not to formal ideas but to how Puritanism was lived in the families, churches, and towns of colonial New England."
--Francis J. Bremer, author of Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds


"Van Engen focuses on "fellow feeling" as both a defining feature of seventeenth-century Puritanism and a precursor to forms of sympathy better known in later literature. In so doing, he offers a challenging interpretation of the motivations of New England colonists. Sympathetic Puritans does not ask us to empathize with the likes of John Winthrop or Mary Rowlandson, but it does demand that we consider them and our enduring connections to them in a new light."
--Kristina Bross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, Purdue University


"An immensely rewarding book that alters our understanding of a canonical text and fills out the intellectual history of early New England."
--David D. Hall, Harvard Divinity School


"Van Engen's book, based on his dissertation at Northwestern University, will be an important work for students of colonial New England, Puritanism, and the history of the emotions... Van Engen's is the more original work, and probably will be of interest to a wider range of scholars. It proves that there is still something original to be said about Puritanism." --Reviews in History


"In graceful writing that rehearses predecessors while advancing knowledge, Sympathetic Puritans will prompt readers to look anew at the book's historical actors and time period, stimulate debates for other areas of American Studies, and facilitate discussions that will energize students at all levels."--The American Historical Review


"Sympathetic Puritans is a refreshingly ambitious book... Van Engen's work is groundbreaking, a must-read for scholars of New England Puritanism and sentimental novels alike." --Common-Place


"This is an excellent, detailed, and careful cross-disciplinary study that questions and thus challenges inherited assumptions and thus the method of actually investigating 'theological' and 'social' ideas. The volume is recommended for close reading by all." --Religious Studies Review


"Abram van Engen s Sympathetic Puritans, then, is a major contribution to the ongoing
revisionist scholarship engaged in putting Puritans and their contributions to American
culture back onto an even keel. In drawing our attention to the 'genealogical links' between the power of emotions in Puritan soteriology and their latter-day descendants in sentimental fiction, van Engen points us in the right direction...In this and in many other aspects, van
Engen s first book establishes him as a promising new light in the discipline."--American Studies


"[W]ell-conceived, engagingly written comprises a convincing re-casting of seventeenth-century New England history, and it should make a lasting contribution to the scholarship of that period."--Britain and the World


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