Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2007
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) is, indisputably, a significant figure in American history. He emerged on the religious landscape of New England in the opening half of the eighteenth century, but soon achieved an international reputation. Edwards's description of religious revivals and his defense of evangelical Protestantism vaulted him into the public arena at home and abroad. Though his life was cut short prematurely a few months after becoming the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), his publications and his personal influence on a subsequent generation of religious leaders assured that his theological legacy would continue after his death.
The impact of Edwards's ideas expanded with the passage of time. In the eighteenth century, disciples and members of his extended family, including Samuel Hopkins, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., and Timothy Dwight, were instrumental in the articulation of an Edwardsean theology. The nineteenth century saw the consolidation and expansion of that tradition within evangelical Protestantism. The image of Edwards as a powerful preacher and a sophisticated apologist for traditional Christianity also attracted literary and cultural reflection by authors as diverse as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Those same years witnessed the publication of collected editions of Edwards's Works as well as the frequent republication of his individual titles, including, most notably, The Life of David Brainerd.