Religion's Effects on the Culture of the Puritans

The Mayflower carried many Puritans to America, where they would establish colonies on the basis of their religion.
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After Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation in 1517, Europe saw the growth of many different interpretations of Christianity. One of these groups, the Puritans, had particularly strict religious beliefs such as predestination. When the Puritans established colonies in the New World, their religious beliefs led them on the one hand to be hard working and economically prosperous, but on the other hand to be strict and intolerant of other beliefs..

1 Puritanism

Puritanism developed in England as a variation of Calvinism, a strict form of Protestantism developed in Geneva by John Calvin. Puritans in England sought to purify the corruption they saw in the Anglican Church of England, and slowly grew into a large movement that helped start the English Civil War of the 1640s that culminated in the beheading of King Charles I.

2 American Colonies

Many Puritans, however, felt they could not reform English society to accept their radical viewpoint, and therefore fled first to Holland and then to America to establish colonies to practice their religion. The first group of such Puritans sailed on the Mayflower and established in 1620 the colony of Plymouth in what would become Massachusetts. Additional groups of Puritans settled across New England, establishing colonies, such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, built around religion.

3 Predestination and Work

Puritan beliefs centered around the idea of predestination, which stated that select individuals were already preordained by God to enter heaven. These individuals would be recognized in society by their hard work and piety, and so Puritans emphasized hard work to demonstrate that they were God's chosen people. This hard work led to significant economic progress in the Puritan colonies, and scholars such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Max Weber argued that this Puritan work ethic helped make America economically successful.

4 Religious Intolerance

However, the Puritan belief in themselves as God's chosen people also led to significant religious intolerance in the American colonies. Roger Williams, whose religious beliefs regarding tolerance and freedom were at odds with the prevailing Puritan ideas, fled Massachusetts and founded Rhode Island in 1636. He was later joined by Anne Hutchinson, another dissenter banished from Massachusetts. Puritan intolerance experienced its darkest moment during the Salem Witch trials of 1692.

  • 1 Mayflower; Nathaniel Philbrick
  • 2 A History of the Modern World; R. R. Palmer, Joel Colton and Lloyd Kramer

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.