A professor emeritus of American religious history at Harvard Divinity School sheds new light on the diverse forms of Puritan belief and practice in England, Scotland, and New England, providing an account of a cultural movement that judged the Protestant reforms of Queen Elizabeth's reign to be unfinished.
This fake news of liberty, abundance and prosperity found a ready audience, among them members of the religious communities whose long experience of harassment and persecution is narrated so vividly in The Puritans. Mr. Hall’s magisterial work provides a ground-breaking international history of this controversial religious movement as it emerged in the Old World and evolved to shape the New. In constructing his chronicle, Mr. Hall, an emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School, builds upon a career of extraordinary achievement in this field. His voluminous endnotes compress many decades of wide reading into what will become one of the definitive histories of its subject.
There is a retrospective flavour to the book, and something of an elegiac flavour too, particularly in its closing chapters, as it traces the long slow decay of the Puritan tradition ... Hall’s humane and sympathetic account of Puritan spirituality helps to explain the paradox of its appeal ... This book is the latest in a long line of studies that have delicately teased out the subtleties of New England Puritan theology, and...it deserves to rank among the best of them. As a study of the intellectual and cultural transmission of Puritanism, it could hardly be improved on. But the price of this concentrated attention to religion and theology is a certain blurring of focus when it comes to the wider context of war and politics on the colonial frontier.
His history is not so much one of ranters as of honest men and women trying to get right the most fundamental things of all: the human relationship with God, and hence the right way to be living and the right sort of society to be ordering ... The modern secular reader might think of [Puritans] as killjoys or bores. Hall dispels this feeling ... Hall, like [C.S.] Lewis, reawakens in the reader the intense excitement of the men and women who wanted to finish the Reformation. He makes you see how thrilling the theology was for them ... Hall does not make me like the Puritans much, but he does help me to see what made them tick, and to recognise the heroism of the ‘Saints’ who set out for New England ... This austere, impressive book would not gladden anyone’s Christmas, but I felt edified reading it, even at those moments which reminded me why puritanism, both in its authentic 17th-century forms and in its modern equivalents, will always repel me.