Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Fun (?): Get your head around this

In his essay, "Anti-Puritanism: The Structure of a Prejudice", Princeton historian Peter Lake discussed the inherent difficulty of defining puritanism for the historian. It stems from there being at least three groups involved in definition-making: besides other contemporary historians, one also must deal with the critics who first coined and applied the term during the 16th and 17th centuries, and the people who willingly adopted the term for themselves. Warns Lake,

Even those with a more distanced and indifferent attitude to these questions [of Anglican ecclesiology, religion and politics] would do well, before pronouncing definitively on the nature of puritanism, to remember that they are dealing with an entity that was always already under construction and contestation both by the people being characterized (then and now) as puritans and their enemies.

I'd be interested in hearing how all of you, post-grads and otherwise, define puritanism. Please leave a comment!

(In another post I'll tackle the question: "Puritan with a capital or lower-case 'p'?")

Lake's essay can be found in Religious Politics in Post-Reformation England: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tyacke, ed. Fincham and Lake (Boydell, 2006), 80-97. The quote is on p. 86.


Larissa said...

What a great question, I never imagined that their was a question of defining puritan. But I was under the impression that they called themselves puritans after being dubbed non-conformists, since they wanted to retain the purity of the Church and not allow it to be corrupted by the licentious nature of the Papacy. They upheld the purity of the True nature of the Church. Maybe I am wrong, that is all I know about it.

H.C. Ross said...

I think you're very close, Larissa -- thanks for commenting. From what I understand, the first folks to use the term were critics of those who tried to rid the English church of Roman Catholic elements. The word wasn't used willingly by the 'godly' themselves until a few years into the 17th century.

Susan said...


This isn't a comment but I am looking through the blogs for parents.

I have a blog called 'THE BRICKS IN THE CAVE'. It is an adventure story for children with an illustrated episode every day in August.

I think your daughter will probably be too young for it still but you may know other parents who have junior school age children who would like to read the story and look at the pictures.

It can be found at

I hope you don't mind me contacting you in this way but I don't know how people can know any particular blog exists unless the writer lets people know!

Yours sincerely

Susan Harwood

Richard Snoddy said...

I think it would be fair to say that P/puritanism is in the eye of the beholder.


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