The expanding religious culture of english colonial america
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The Expanding Religious Culture of English Colonial America. Religious Diversity in the Middle Colonies. Besides England, Spain and France, other countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia were making themselves, and their religions, known in America

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Religious diversity in the middle colonies
Religious Diversity in the Middle Colonies

  • Besides England, Spain and France, other countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia were making themselves, and their religions, known in America

  • Immigrants from various Scandinavian countries represented a strong Lutheran presence

  • The Dutch Reformed Church, a Calvinist denomination, settled primarily in New York (originally called New Amsterdam)


  • The Synod of Dort (1662) established the central doctrines of Calvinism (to which the Dutch Reformed and other Reformed churches would subscribe):

    • Total Depravity

    • Unconditional Election

    • Limited Atonement

    • Irrestistible Grace

    • Perseverance of the Saints

  • From 1662 on, these five principles were seen as the standard of Calvinist orthodoxy in America

William penn s holy experiment
William Penn’s “Holy Experiment”

  • Penn, a Quaker, settled Pennsylvania in 1681 as a proprietary colony (one formed under the direction of a particular individual by decree of the king)

  • Being of a pacifistic and minority tradition, Penn founded his colony on the idea that God shaped “inner light” in people in variant forms and that it was counterintuitive to force others to believe a certain way

    • Pennsylvania enjoyed a rather open policy toward religious diversity, demonstrating the possibility of such peaceful pluralism in a single society

  • Quakers, German Pietists, Presbyterians, Baptists and even Catholics lived alongside one another in relative harmony

Maryland and the carolinas
Maryland and the Carolinas

  • Maryland, founded by George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, was also a proprietary colony experiencing religious diversity

    • Specifically, Maryland became a safe haven for English, and later French, Catholics

    • In 1649, the second Lord Baltimore, issued a decree for “religious toleration” intent on “assuring the legal rights of minority religions” (35)

  • The Carolinas, though bearing no official act of toleration, harbored a great number of different religions, including a burgeoning Jewish population

    • Eventually divided into North Carolina and South Carolina, the original colony only required its settlers to profess their belief in God

The great awakening
The Great Awakening

  • In spite of the growing number of different faith traditions, there did exist established churches

  • Yet disregarding church boundaries, a general revivalistic fervor swept through the colonies during the 1730s through the 1750s

    • This general period of renewal is referred to as “the Great Awakening”

    • This period helped give birth to a whole new set of ways to be religious and helped in part to bring about the current American system of denominationalism

  • The two preachers most associated with the upsurge of revivals were Jonathan Edwards (a Calvinist pastor) and George Whitefield (an Anglican itinerant)

The great awakening1
The Great Awakening

  • Since the revivals highlighted a particular style of being religious- namely having a personal and singular experience of conversion- this type of religious movement is called evangelical

    • This particular experience was perceived therein as “key to authentic religion” (39), and affected American Protestantism from then on

  • Such experiences were often marked by physical, even ecstatic, reactions

  • “Itinerating”, or traveling from church to church to preach, became a trademark of renowned Great Awakening preachers (Whitefield was one, also John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism)

Rational religion
“Rational” Religion

  • Critics of the Great Awakening saw certain elements of the revivals as destabilizing to more established churches or excessive , particularly the physical responses and the “door-to-door” preacher method of itinerancy

    • Many of these critics had been profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment

  • The Enlightenment brought forward the idea that reason acted as the primary lens through which all, including religious, phenomena should be examined

  • Some of the more extreme proponents of rational religion rejected religion entirely, suspecting anything that based itself on “miracles” or revealed truth; others were more moderate and tried to reconcile particular religious beliefs to reason

Rational religion1
“Rational” Religion

  • Enlightenment rationalists were more lax when it came to ideas of religious liberty, believing in great part that it was a matter of personal conscience what one worshipped

    • Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington all supported the idea that rationalism would lead people to a general sense of shared morals and ethics

  • Deism (based on the idea that the existence of God can be deduced from the natural world) and Unitarianism (a religion based on the rational excavation of certain doctrines of scripture, namely the trinity) are both seen as religions that grew either directly or indirectly out of the Enlightenment