The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England

The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England

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    The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England
    Book Description:

    The Science of the Soulchallenges long-standing notions of Puritan provincialism as antithetical to the Enlightenment. Sarah Rivett demonstrates that, instead, empiricism and natural philosophy combined with Puritanism to transform the scope of religious activity in colonial New England from the 1630s to the Great Awakening of the 1740s.In an unprecedented move, Puritan ministers from Thomas Shepard and John Eliot to Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards studied the human soul using the same systematic methods that philosophers applied to the study of nature. In particular, they considered the testimonies of tortured adolescent girls at the center of the Salem witch trials, Native American converts, and dying women as a source of material insight into the divine. Conversions and deathbed speeches were thus scrutinized for evidence of grace in a way that bridged the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, the worldly and the divine.In this way, the "science of the soul" was as much a part of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century natural philosophy as it was part of post-Reformation theology. Rivett's account restores the unity of religion and science in the early modern world and highlights the role and importance of both to transatlantic circuits of knowledge formation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0078-9
    Subjects: History, Religion, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction Adam’s Perfection Redeemed
    (pp. 1-22)

    John Milton’s Eve inParadise Lost(1667) is not built on biblical precedent. She finds knowledge more seductive than flattery as the serpent tempts her through the power of speech and his capacity to rationalize. Listening to the serpent, Eve imagines how she too might possess greater knowledge, augmenting her own “inward powers.” She discovers the “virtues” of a fruit that makes her mind “capacious,” suddenly capable of discerning “things” erstwhile “visible” only “in heaven.” While recognizing how her actions violate God’s command, she nonetheless momentarily relishes the reward. From what seems a mixed motive—the desire to share her...

  6. 1 Evidence of Grace
    (pp. 23-69)

    The sweeping theological transformations that took place over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries drove bands of people to migrate to diverse locations throughout the early modern Atlantic world. Demonstrating God’s grace became of paramount importance to the justification of each New World mission. Radical Protestant sects such as Independents, Congregationalists, and Baptists developed the test of faith, an oral and public testimony designed to mitigate the uncertainty surrounding signs of election. Before a group of discerning witnesses, testifiers declared adequate (albeit uncertain) proof of their own election while also providing data in response to a metaphysical problem, namely, the uncertainty...

  7. 2 Congregations Masculine Form and Reluctant Women in Puritan Testimony
    (pp. 70-124)

    The year 1633 is one of transformation in John Winthrop’sHistory of New England. Nothing bespoke change more than his catalog of the ships arriving in the Massachusetts Bay Colony bearing colonists to the New World settlement. Among the arrivals were the soon-to-be-infamous Anne Hutchinson, the much-looked-for John Cotton, and Thomas Hooker, two ministers whose Old World reputations prompted a small-scale migration to Boston. Taking six to eight weeks on average, voyages from London brought in hundreds of new passengers annually, each eager to settle among the original migrants of 1630. Although most of these Puritans had prepared for years...

  8. 3 Praying Towns Conversion, Empirical Desire, and the Indian Soul
    (pp. 125-172)

    In the winter of 1652, ten Indian proselytes assembled in an English-style meetinghouse in Natick, Massachusetts, to orally recount what their conversion to Christianity felt like. Puritan missionaries John Eliot and Thomas Mayhew’sTears of Repentancepublished the record of these testimonies. In 1653, Tears appeared in London in multiple editions alongside John Rogers’sTabernacle for the Sun, a similar collection of Irish conversion testimonies. Their publication corresponds to the year of Oliver Cromwell’s installation as the lord protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.TearsandTabernacleappeal directly to this context: epistolary dedications to Cromwell frame...

  9. 4 Deathbeds Tokenography and the Science of Dying Well
    (pp. 173-222)

    On the day before her death in 1697, Mary Clark Bonner requested the presence of her close friends and family members in her Cambridge home. A group began to gather around her bed to bear witness to the final phase in the life of a Puritan saint: a testimony offering evidence of divine translation, the passage from death to eternal life. Often compared to childbirth, this passage was long and laborious. At one point, Mary cried out in a dreadful and frightened voice, “The devil came upon me like a Lyon.” Her neighbor Mrs. Champney comforted and encouraged her “not...

  10. 5 Witchcraft Trials The Death of the Devil and the Specter of Hypocrisy in 1692
    (pp. 223-270)

    As George Burroughs entered the courtroom on May 9, 1692, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Susanna Sheldon fell into “grevious” fits. This preliminary hearing found Burroughs guilty of performing “wicked Arts” upon three of the afflicted girls (Mary, Mercy, and Ann). The court used the language of James I’s witchcraft statute from 1604 (1 Jac. I, c. 12) to discover that Burroughs had “Tortured Afflicted Pined Consumed Wasted and Tormented” the girls, all under the age of nineteen. In each indictment, the other afflicted girls doubled as accusers, bearing witness to the torture, torment,...

  11. 6 Revivals Evangelical Enlightenment
    (pp. 271-335)

    The dangers of misapplied science, fully realized in the Salem witchcraft trials and the events’ larger context in Royal Society debates, put tremendous pressure on the science of the soul. By the late-seventeenth century, Harvard-trained ministers and Royal Society natural philosophers continued to advance their practices, though with renewed caution, aware both of mechanical philosophy’s limitations and the parameters surrounding empirical inquiry—especially interdictions against studying preternatural phenomena. Yet neither New England ministers nor London natural philosophers abandoned efforts to apply empirical methods to advance knowledge of God. Rather, such theologians as Samuel Clarke recuperated the goal of knowing the...

  12. Conversion in America
    (pp. 336-346)

    On Sunday, October 4, 1747, David Brainerd lay dying in Jonathan Edwards’s home in Northampton. He had been ill for several years and had endured hardships as he traveled on horseback along the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers in search of Indians to convert. His missionary journey, as Edwards would relate in hisAccount of the Life of Brainerd, based on Brainerd’s journal, became a spiritual journey into the depths of his own heart. Manifestations of grace among Brainerd’s native converts were a measure of his own. His illness and impending death indexed the depletion of religion as also expressed among...

  13. Index
    (pp. 347-364)