Sympathetic Puritans by Abram Van Engen
Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (Religion in America)

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Revising dominant accounts of Puritanism and challenging the literary history of sentimentalism, Sympathetic Puritans argues that a Calvinist theology of sympathy shaped the politics, religion, rhetoric, and literature of early New England. Scholars have often understood and presented sentimentalism as a direct challenge to stern and stoic Puritan forebears; the standard history traces a cult of sensibility back to moral sense philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment, not Puritan New England. Abram C. Van Engen has unearthed pervasive evidence of sympathy in a large archive of Puritan sermons, treatises, tracts, poems, journals, histories, and captivity narratives. He demonstrates how two types of sympathy -- the active command to fellow-feel (a duty), as well as the passive sign that could indicate salvation (a discovery) -- permeated Puritan society and came to define the very boundaries of English culture, affecting conceptions of community, relations with Native Americans, and the development of American literature.

Van Engen re-examines the Antinomian Controversy, conversion narratives, transatlantic relations, Puritan missions, Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative -- and Puritan culture more generally -- through the lens of sympathy. Demonstrating and explicating a Calvinist theology of sympathy in seventeenth-century New England, the book reveals the religious history of a concept that has previously been associated with more secular roots.

About Abram Van Engen

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Abram C. Van Engen is an Assistant Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, where he researches and teaches early American literature, history, and culture. Van Engen received his Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University in 2010, earning the Hagstrum Prize for best dissertation in English.
Published February 25, 2015 by Oxford University Press. 328 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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He argues that the controversy was primarily theological, noting that ‘when letters first passed between Thomas Shepard and John Cotton (the leading ministers on either side), the primary issue was pastoral, not political: they debated assurance and salvation, not authority and stability’ (p.

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