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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: November 2008

19 - Puritan legacies

from Part IV: - Puritanism and posterity


Puritanism has been credited (and blamed) for bequeathing a puzzling set of legacies, including the spirit of capitalism, scientific enterprise, Anglo-Saxon sexual repression, companionate marriage, liberal democracy, American exceptionalism and religious bigotry. Puritans have been hailed as midwives of modernity, and censured as reactionary foes of enlightened values. In the first half of this chapter, I want to introduce some of the grand theories about Puritanism and modernity, explaining how they have generated vigorous but inconclusive debate. In the second half, I will point to an alternative way of exploring the Puritan legacy, one that studies the reception and uses of Puritan religious texts from the eighteenth century onwards, and asks how later generations remembered and represented seventeenth-century Puritanism. / Puritanism and modernity / It is now more than a century since Max Weber published his seminal essay, 'Die protestantische Ethik und der “Geist” des Kapitalismus' (1904-5), translated into English by Talcott Parsons as The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930). Weber's general claim was that cultural factors play a significant role in economic development; his specific claim was that the predestinarian doctrines of the English Puritans fostered a 'Protestant ethic' that produced 'the spirit of capitalism' and contributed to the economic dynamism of England and the United States.

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