Faithful Bodies

Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

By Heather Miyano Kopelson

From The NYU Press

416 pp / 6 maps, 16 halftones, 6 figures, 1 table / 2014

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In the seventeenth-century English Atlantic, religious beliefs and practices played a central role in creating racial identity. English Protestantism provided a vocabulary and structure to describe and maintain boundaries between insider and outsider. In this path-breaking study, Heather Miyano Kopelson peels back the layers of conflicting definitions of bodies and competing practices of faith in the puritan Atlantic, demonstrating how the categories of “white,” “black,” and “Indian” developed alongside religious boundaries between “Christian” and “heathen” and between “Catholic” and “Protestant.”

Faithful Bodies focuses on three communities of Protestant dissent in the Atlantic World: Bermuda, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In this “puritan Atlantic,” religion determined insider and outsider status: at times Africans and Natives could belong as long as they embraced the Protestant faith, while Irish Catholics and English Quakers remained suspect. Colonists’ interactions with indigenous peoples of the Americas and with West Central Africans shaped their understandings of human difference and its acceptable boundaries. Prayer, religious instruction, sexual behavior, and other public and private acts became markers of whether or not blacks and Indians were sinning Christians or godless heathens. As slavery became law, transgressing people of color counted less and less as sinners in English puritans’ eyes, even as some of them made Christianity an integral part of their communities. As Kopelson shows, this transformation proceeded unevenly but inexorably during the long seventeenth century.

Reviews & Quotes

"Offers a new way to understand religion, politics, and identity in the English Atlantic World. This is an ambitious undertaking, and Kopelson has done it justice. Faithful Bodies really does it all, with a provocative argument, careful archival research, creative historiographical connections, and evocative, accessible writing."
— Ann M. Little, Colorado State University

"This is a fascinating and important new perspective on the body of Christ in early America. With meticulous research and illuminating insight, Kopelson reveals the chain of associations that bound religious communities and colonial societies to an emerging Protestant ethos committed to defining and disciplining corporeal life. Finally, we have a satisfying account of the Puritan attitude to race and sex."
— Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of History, Harvard University

About Heather Miyano Kopelson

Heather Miyano Kopelson is Assistant Professor of History and Affiliated Faculty in Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

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"The Early American Places series is an exciting development in scholarly publishing, one that will highlight the most important part of the study of history: the local and particular dimensions of global issues and trends. This is where the rubber meets the road, where ordinary people's lives help to make, and are made by, the bustling wider world in which they live. Early American Places is an original series, and it will publish important scholarship."

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