restricted access Confessional Spatiality in the Puritan Atlantic
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Confessional Spatiality in the Puritan Atlantic Heather Miyano Kopelson P+++++++p In some ways the puritan minister Michael Wigglesworth is an obvious starting place for a spatially inclined investigation of religion and the Atlantic World.1 He is familiar to many students of early American religion, literature, and history as the author of The Day of Doom, a verse meditation on Judgment Day, which lays out the theological tenets of predestination in which individuals can but struggle to accept their fates in the face of the decrees of an all-powerful and demanding God. Almost as well known are his personal and epistolary transatlantic crossings between England and New England, movements and connections that could be readily linked to specific people and even latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates.2 But Wigglesworth’s life also offers a glimmer of a more expansive puritan Atlantic, a puritan-influenced world that included—but extended beyond— Wigglesworth and his clerical compatriots. His Atlantic travels suggest a conception of religiously bounded space that encompassed many other locales along with New England, one perceived and created through religious affiliation and practice. Shortly after the publication of Day of Doom in 1662, Wigglesworth traveled to Bermuda and found the religious environment to be entirely unremarkable .3 As he was not a man who saw religion in some parts of his life and not in others, his failure to comment on religious life in Bermuda was significant. Had the spiritual environment been abhorrent to him, there would have been no reason for him to refrain from commenting to that effect.4 The apparent familiarity of Bermuda’s atmosphere to one puritan minister is a hint that puritanism existed in a wider context than England and eastern Massachusetts. In the middle of the seventeenth century, a spectrum of colonies shared a distinct culture of English religious dissent that extended beyond the sermonizing and lecturing of the puritan meetinghouse to shape a larger sense of community. This spectrum also included places such as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, founded by Massachusetts exiles but still in the same religious world as the Bay Colony. Individuals disagreed over the boundaries of 268 Heather Miyano Kopelson that community and how to determine who might belong to it. They turned to the critical factors of race and religion to define those boundaries and to make them appear inevitable and unchangeable rather than malleable and contingent on context. These struggles over community definition revealed differing maps of the puritan Atlantic and competing organizational schemes for its resources. Studies of religion and the Atlantic World face a difficult question of how one measures the subject of investigation. What counts as religion or religious influence ? How does one quantify faith? Including actions as well as texts, in addition to expanding the definition of texts, is a way to get at those sometimes intangible aspects, the ephemeral movement of body and mind.5 In addition, framing the conversation around questions about spatiality and its relational qualities might also offer a way to approach the problem of quantification, which was part of the very development of the Atlantic World system in the early modern era, without reproducing the census concerns of early modern imperial administrators. While this essay does not employ the technical tools of geographical information science as do others in this volume, it ends by suggesting how such GIScience could enable the multilevel mapping of religious practice in the Atlantic World. By developing ways to map different kinds of data simultaneously, allowing for some flow and flux between them, scholars would be closer to the dynamic quality of religion and the Atlantic World. Bounding the Late-Seventeenth-Century Puritan Atlantic “Puritan Atlantic” looks at those parts of the Atlantic world where Puritans exerted substantial influence on the institutions and practices of society. In addition to Rhode Island and Bermuda, several colonies and locales outside the New England colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, New Haven, and Connecticut were part of the puritan Atlantic, an idea that does not depend as heavily on self-identification as does the “Protestant International,” a confessional network that understood itself to be fighting against a worldwide Catholic threat.6 While specific and articulated connections among dissenting Protestants did exist in the puritan Atlantic, they did not fill the entire space.7 The phrase “puritan Atlantic” highlights common aspects of the shared religious culture in places where “hot” Protestants, those seeking reform beyond that instituted by the Church of England, played a major role.8 In...


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