Guest Post: Cotton Mather and the Enlightenment in New England: Redefining the Holy Spirit

Philipp Reisner received his PhD from and teaches as a lecturer in the American Studies  Department at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. He approaches research multidisciplinarily and is particularly interested in New English and American literature, cultures, and theologies. His first book, Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit, deals with the theological role that the New English theologian Cotton Mather (1663–1728) played in the context of early modern society and was published in the Reformed Historical Theology series with Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in 2012.

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My book Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit examines Cotton Mather’s writings, identifying him as participating in Enlightenment thought through his various societal roles as pastor, physician, politician, and scientist. Mather studies have become an important part of early modern studies, not least because they touch on so many disciplines—such as natural and life sciences, philosophy, history, philology, and theology—and the ways these disciplines were transformed throughout the early eighteenth century. His oeuvre is currently undergoing revision, attention being drawn to his theology through the first publication of his Bible commentary Biblia Americana; this revision tends to reinterpret him as an early evangelical. It has not been fully recognized to what extent this reinterpretation depends on his pneumatology. In my book, I examine his pneumatology in his Bible commentary and his many publications in order to show how Mather’s redefinition of the Holy Spirit posits itself in relation to the unfolding of Enlightenment thought. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Mother’s Day! Consider our gift to the mothers amongst our readership to be the following links, links, and more links…  Continue reading

American Enlightenment! Which American Enlightenment?

James MacGregor Burns, Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our WorldNew York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

Earlier this year, the Journal of American History published an essay bemoaning the lack of attention Americanists give to the idea of an American Enlightenment. The authors suggested some provocative reasons, like a latent exceptionalism that has made American scholars reluctant to pick up a topic still seen as rooted in Europe. Equally problematic was America’s religious character, which has left Americanists wary of a movement still viewed as secular. Despite noteworthy scholarship on an American Enlightenment being produced “at the margins of university research” (though I hesitate to call scholars like James Delbourgo, one such scholar, “marginal”), I sympathize with the authors’ case.  There just isn’t that much good recent scholarship that American historians can readily incorporate into their work. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s that time of the week and it’s my turn to do the roundup, so let’s just get started with some links from the past week or soContinue reading