Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy Of English Puritanism -- By: Ian Hugh Clary

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:1 (Jan 2010)
Article: Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy Of English Puritanism
Author: Ian Hugh Clary


Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy Of English Puritanism

Ian Hugh Clary

The terms “Puritan” and “Puritanism,” like any other socio-historical phenomena, are notoriously hard to define. Historians of early modern Britain have long disagreed as to the nature and extent of English Puritanism. The attempt to define it, according to Glenn Miller, “is one of the most frustrating tasks in all of scholarship.”1 John Coffey emotively explains, “Historians have agonized over its definition.”2 One only has to survey introductory matters in major Puritan studies to see this difficulty first hand.

It is the intent of this essay to evaluate the debate over how “Puritan” and “Puritanism” should be defined and offer adjudication, seeking an adequate, if not general description of the terms—one that concurs with a number of recent Puritan studies. Reasons for the difficulty will first be offered, followed by a survey of various taxonomies that Puritan historians have held and concluding with an attempt at a general definition.

Brian H. Cosby is right when he says, “The need to define the term is particularly urgent, given the recent interest in Puritan literature, theology and culture.”3 The mass of Puritan reprints has been foundational to the reception of Reformed theology in many church circles. However, in terms of being able to offer a clear understanding,

the variegated nature of Puritanism tends to be downplayed as certain works are emphasized to the neglect of others. It is requisite for historians to recognize such popular limitations and strive to move beyond them to seek a definition that accounts for the breadth and diversity of Puritan thought. It is hoped that this essay will be an added encouragement to the list of historians who are already of this mindset.

Reasons For The Difficulty

A number of reasons can account for the challenge historians face when defining “Puritan” and “Puritanism.” As noted, one has to do with the unavoidable, popular notions of Puritanism driven by the necessarily selective nature of Puritan reprints. Although Puritan writings maintained a lasting influence through the eighteenth century, it was in the nineteenth century that they became available on a wider scale in British and North American evangelicalism. This largely had to do with the Puritan reprints that made their way into the hands of lay people. There was, in Coffey’s words, a “buoyant demand for the classics of Puritan devotional literature.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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