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Protestant Empire

Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World

By Carla Gardina Pestana

Publication Year: 2009

The imperial expansion of Europe across the globe was one of the most significant events to shape the modern world. Among the many effects of this cataclysmic movement of people and institutions was the intermixture of cultures in the colonies that Europeans created. Protestant Empire is the first comprehensive survey of the dramatic clash of peoples and beliefs that emerged in the diverse religious world of the British Atlantic, including England, Scotland, Ireland, parts of North and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Beginning with the role religion played in the lives of believers in West Africa, eastern North America, and western Europe around 1500, Carla Gardina Pestana shows how the Protestant Reformation helped to fuel colonial expansion as bitter rivalries prompted a fierce competition for souls.

The English—who were latecomers to the contest for colonies in the Atlantic—joined the competition well armed with a newly formulated and heartfelt anti-Catholicism. Despite officially promoting religious homogeneity, the English found it impossible to prevent the conflicts in their homeland from infecting their new colonies. Diversity came early and grew inexorably, as English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics and Protestants confronted one another as well as Native Americans, West Africans, and an increasing variety of other Europeans. Pestana tells an original and compelling story of their interactions as they clung to their old faiths, learned of unfamiliar religions, and forged new ones. In an account that ranges widely through the Atlantic basin and across centuries, this book reveals the creation of a complicated, contested, and closely intertwined world of believers of many traditions.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-14

The expansion of Europe from its peninsula into other parts of the globe was one of the most significant events to shape the modern world. Among the many effects of this cataclysmic movement of people and institutions was the intermixture of cultures that occurred in the colonies that Europeans created. Europeans crossed oceans...

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Chapter One. Religion before English Expansion

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pp. 15-32

In1500, the three regions of West Africa, eastern North America, and western Europe were only beginning to come into contact. As the new century dawned (by the calculation of the western European calendar), both Spain and Portugal sent ships to ply the Atlantic. Each had previously conquered islands off the coast of Africa, the Madeira, the Azores (Portugal, 1418,...

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Chapter Two. Reformation and the Politicization of Religious Expansion

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pp. 33-65

The sixteenth century witnessed two developments of enormous significance to religion in the British Atlantic world. The Spanish and (later) the Portuguese, having begun to conquer large stretches of the Western Hemisphere, launched a massive effort to convert the native peoples of the Americas to Roman Catholicism. At the same time, England and Scotland...

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Chapter Three. Exporting the Religious Tensions of the Three Kingdoms

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pp. 66-99

The English moved tentatively into the wider Atlantic world in the late sixteenth century and entered more decisively into the colonization in the first decades of the seventeenth century, shortly after King James of Scotland assumed his cousin Elizabeth’s throne. In doing so, James became James VI and I, ruler over three kingdoms—his native Scotland, as well as England...

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Chapter Four. Restoration Settlement and the Growth of Diversity

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pp. 100-127

The year 1660 marks a traditional divide in the political history of Britain and the British Atlantic world. It brought an end to twenty years of revolutionary upheaval and a return of the Stuart dynasty to the throne. The political restoration of monarchy had predictable religious consequences, since, as a matter of course, the Church of England returned as the official state...

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Chapter Five. Battling over Religious Identity in the Late Seventeenth Century

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pp. 128-158

Tension and conflict permeated the British Atlantic world during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In 1675–76 an Indian war erupted in New England, while Virginians fought a combined Indian and civil war. In the broader Atlantic context, the period was dominated by the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89, which affected the religious histories of England, Wales,...

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Chapter Six. Religious Encounters and the Making of a British Atlantic

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pp. 159-186

The early eighteenth century in the British Atlantic world was shaped by two factors: the working out of the religious implications of the Glorious Revolution and a number of contradictory cultural trends. The first cluster of developments arose from shifts in religious politics in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution. Following the dictates of William and Mary as well as...

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Chapter Seven. Revivalism and the Growth of Evangelical Christianity

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pp. 187-217

The mid-eighteenth century in the British Atlantic world witnessed religious ferment caused by revivals, an increase in evangelical religion generally, and unprecedented outreach across previously demarcated divisions. The groups most bent on converting others during this era of widespread evangelization were those that were outside of the traditional churches, especially...

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Chapter Eight. Revolutionary Divisions, Continuing Bonds

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pp. 218-255

As in the late seventeenth century, in the later eighteenth century the British Atlantic world endured serious conflicts with implications for religion. The American, French, and Haitian revolutions all affected religious institutions and trends. Both the American and French revolutions were interpreted by conservatives as arising from irreligion. While the American conflict...

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Conclusion: The British Atlantic World in Perspective

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pp. 256-265

The circulation of peoples throughout the British Atlantic world brought together many different religious traditions. The meeting of western European Christianity, West African traditional beliefs, and Native American spirituality only began to capture the extent of the ideas and practices in circulation. Atlantic African Muslims, Mohawk and Kongolese Catholics...

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Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 267-275

The scholarship on religion in the British Atlantic world is vast and diffused. Most scholarly works take up one faith tradition in a specific location (such as Methodists in North America), explore one event (religious revivals of the mid-eighteenth century), or present the life story of one believer (the Countess of Huntingdon). Many books ...


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pp. 277-285


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pp. 287-300

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pp. 301-302

This book grew out of an essay I wrote for The British Atlantic World. I thank David Armitage and Michael Braddick for the initial invitation to contribute to that volume. At a stimulating gathering to discuss the project hosted by the International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World at Harvard, various participants urged me to write...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203493
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812241501

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- Africa -- Religion.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- America -- Religion.
  • Great Britain -- Church history.
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