International Study Meeting CDRS

18 april 2024
13:00 - 17:00
Theologische Universiteit Utrecht

International Study Meeting CDRS

Reforming America

Some aspects of 17th century religious culture

April 18, 2024, 13.00-17.00

Plompetorengracht 3, Utrecht


PD Dr. Benedikt Brunner (Mainz) “How to Feel ‘right’. Native Americans, Puritan Missionaries and the Fight for a Colonial Sensescape in Seventeenth-Century New England”

PD Dr. Jan van de Kamp (VU Amsterdam) “Publication of the Imitatio banned in New England, 1669? Or: push- and-pull factors in the interconfessional exchange of devotional writings”

Participation is free.

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Abstracts and short Biographies

How to Feel ‘right’. Native Americans, Puritan Missionaries and the Fight for a Colonial Sensescape in Seventeenth-Century New England

PD Dr. Benedikt Brunner, Mainz

The Puritan mission among the Native Americans in the 17th century has not yet been studied from the perspective of sensory history. Yet the sources describing this missionary activity – mostly from the perspective of the white colonists – are extensive and offer a variety of reference points. It is clear that very different concepts of what was considered sacred and how individual and communal life was to be led on this basis clashed here.

A particularly telling example is the Puritan mission on Martha’s Vineyard among the Wampanoag there. On this island, the Puritan missionary efforts were perceived by them as relatively successful, as they were relatively permanent. Experience Mayhew, whose „Indian Converts“ from 1723 is an important account, was already a third-generation missionary on the Island. Mayhew’s work was mainly aimed at demonstrating the successes of the missionary efforts to the international, mostly English donors of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

My paper will focus on the descriptions and evaluations of Native American sensory experiences that Mayhew repeatedly highlights at length as evidence of the success of missionary efforts. However, Native American conversions were not infrequently also a step of self-empowerment that enabled them to belong to the Christian community. These different assessments and experiential worlds are to be compared with each other. The question of the senses leads to the centre of the conflicts of norms that were characteristic of 17th century New England.

Short Biography

Benedikt Brunner is a Research Associate at the Leibniz-Institute for European History in Mainz. He received his PhD from the University of Münster in 2017 with a conceptual history of the term “Volkskirche” in German Protestantism. Since then he worked on several aspects of the history of Early Modern Protestantism in Europe and beyond. He is currently finishing a book length project about coping practices among Protestants in Nuremberg, Basel, London and Boston. He is the author of Volkskirche. Zur Geschichte eines evangelischen Grundbegriffs (1918–1960) (2020) and several articles about Death in Early Modern Europe.

Publication of the Imitatio banned in New England, 1669? Or: push- and-pull factors in the interconfessional exchange of devotional writings

PD Dr. Jan van de Kamp, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

In the history of the reception of Thomas a Kempis’s Imitatio it was a rare occurrence for the printing of his work to have been blocked. But, according to previous scholarship, in 1669 in Massachussetts, New England, the printing of this book was thwarted by the government due to Roman Catholic contents. This while kindred Reformed people in England and in other countries such as the Dutch Republic published different versions of the Imitatio without inteference. In this paper, I will establish whether the printing of the Imitatio in Massachussetts was stopped, and if so, why. Furthermore, I will compare the attitude in Massachusetts towards this book with that of Reformed communities in England and the Dutch Republic. My research concludes with insights into the push-and-pull factors that influenced publishing of devotional texts originating from another confession in early modern times.

Short biography

Jan van de Kamp is an Associate Professor at the Hersteld Hervormd Seminary. Based at the Faculty of Religion and Theology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

He is also director of the Research Center Puritanism and Piety (ReCePP) (Amsterdam/Apeldoorn). He specializes in church history. With his main areas of interest focused on the Reformation, Pietism, and the exchange of early modern devotional literature.

Recent publications include Übersetzungen von Erbauungsliteratur und die Rolle von Netzwerken am Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts (2020), and “Practice of Piety Translated: The Dynamics of the International Circulation of a Devotional Book”. Church History 92 (2023), 559–584.

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