From 1570 to 1640, Protestantism became the leading moral and intellectual force in England. During these seven decades of rapid social change, the English Protestants were challenged to make “morally and spiritually comprehensible” a new pattern of civilization. In numerous sermons and tracts such men as Donne, Hall, Hooker, Laud, and Perkins explored the meaning of man and his society. The nature of the Protestant mind is a crucial question in modern historiography and sociology. Drawing on the writings of these important years, the authors find that the real genius of the Protestant mind was not “Puritanism,” but the via media, the reconciliation of religious and social tensions. “’Puritanism,’” the authors show, “is a word, not a thing.”
Originally published in 1961.
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