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Puritanism in America. The cultural significance of puritan values in national mythology. Brenna Liponis and Jack You. You Might Remember this…. 1620. Pilgrims, Puritans, and Separatists. Religious movement (Protestants) in the 16 th and 17 th century

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puritanism in america

Puritanism in America

The cultural significance of puritan values in national mythology

Brenna Liponis and Jack You

you might remember this
You Might Remember this…


Pilgrims, Puritans, and Separatists

who are puritans

Religious movement (Protestants) in the 16th and 17th century

  • Opposed to the Episcopal system and church monarchy which seemed corrupt and “impure”
  • Wanted to interpret the Bible individually (in English)
  • Focus on individual and congregational piety
  • New England Puritans searching for religious freedom– separatists
  • Separatists founded America
Who are Puritans?
religious movement turned national identity
Religious Movement Turned National Identity

Although the religious movement dissolved in the 17th century, the values that have evolved from the original Puritan religion permeate the narratives we tell ourselves every day in media culture.


From America’s Inception to Today

establishing kingdom of heaven on earth
Establishing Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

“…for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world..”

-- John Winthrop, 1630

“In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in Americawould describe the civilization of New England as ‘a beacon lit upon mountain tops which, after warming all in its vicinity, casts a glow over the distant horizon’”

--Hopper, p. 5

exercise of mechanical skill
Exercise of Mechanical Skill

“One reason why American men became obsessed with their automobiles in the early twentieth century was precisely that they could tinker with them on Saturday morning. As late as the 1960s, if a company president did his own plumbing, he would ensure that this fact appeared in his official company biography; it showed he was a ‘real American’. A willingness to get their hands dirty distinguished managers from their European equivalents; this distinction reflected the relative lack of social stratification in the New World, the men at the top and bottom being considered to be made from the same common clay.”

--Hopper, Ken; Hopper, Will. D.. Puritan Gift : Triumph and Decline of an American Dream,p. 7

“In 1865, the French author, Jules Verne, would remark in his novel From the Earth to the Moon that ‘Yankees, who are the world’s finest mechanics, are engineers in the same way as Italians are musicians and Germans are metaphysicians – they were born that way’.”

--Hopper, Ken; Hopper, Will. D.. Puritan Gift : Triumph and Decline of an American Dream, p. 4

collective moral outlook
Collective Moral Outlook

“…to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitttogether in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our ownerejoycetogether, mournetogether, labour, and suffer together, allwayeshaveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body”

-- John Winthrop, 1630

“We keep seeing more examples of Facebook helping people share experiences and values and save them for future reminiscing.”

-- Samuel Axon, Mashable: The Social Media Guide

exemplars of the puritan american ideal heroes in our national mythology and culture
Exemplars of the Puritan American Ideal, heroes in our National Mythology and Culture

Thomas Jefferson

Third President of the United States, Main Author of Declaration of Independence, Founding Father

Changed John Locke’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of estate,” into “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


“Truth, Justice and the American Way”

Ordinary American from Smallville


“Google Inc., which now dominates the world of communications. Their motto is, ‘Don’t be evil’. We have been told that they are motivated by ‘puritanical fanaticism’ and a desire to change the world, making it a better place’; a visitor to their head office is reported to have said that he felt he was in the ‘company of missionaries’. Another observer says that ‘Google is a religion posing as a company’.” (Hopper, p. 5)

Benjamin Franklin

Inventor, Philosopher, Founding Father, Politician, Civic Activist, etc

“Stacy Schiff has said that he ‘truly believed it was always morning in America’.” (Hopper, p. 5)

Ben Franklin

Tommy J




Another less-popular story runs parallel to the Puritan narrative

Consumerist Values Taking OVER THE WORLD!

… and the liberation of women from the private sphere

resourcefulness turned exploitative
Resourcefulness Turned Exploitative

“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Behold, I have given thee every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

--The Bible

“As a nation, we have much to be proud of, and historically have been at the forefront of democratic, progressive politics, but in terms of our ultimately unsustainable dependence upon exploitation, we should be ashamed of both our history and our current state.”

--Thom Hartman, America: The Exploitative Nation

loss of spiritual communities
Loss of Spiritual Communities

“When the late seventeenth-century Puritan divine, Cotton Mather, remarked that religion begot prosperity and the daughter had destroyed the mother, he meant that diligence and economy had created wealth – and that the newly wealthy colonists were straying from the path of virtue.” (Hopper, p. 9)

“In the U.S. […] worship at a church is rivaled only by the worship of the shopping mall.”

-- Will Hutton

selflessness turned selfishness
Selflessness Turned Selfishness

“Winthrop had witnessed with dismay the drift of English culture and deplored the “overall moral climate that allowed and encouraged purposeless, unreflective egotism”

-- David M. Robinson, The Cultural Dynamics of American Puritanism, p. 742

liberation of women
Liberation of Women

“Post-feminist critic Camille Paglia argued by contrast that Madonna's unabashed sexuality exposed “the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism”

--Diane Pecknold, Pop Culture Universe

in conclusion
In Conclusion

As time goes on….


Keeping Puritan values of

    • Attempting to create a better community
    • Mechanical and Managerial Skill
    • Community
  • Evolving from Puritan values of:
    • Subordinating the interests of the individual to that of the group
    • Spiritual Communities
    • Homogeneity, and the submission of Women
  • Always Celebrating
    • Self-sacrifice for the Greater Good
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