Cotton Mather, Heterodox Puritanism, and the Construction of America

  • Edward Simon
Part of the Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500–1800 book series (CTAW)


The New England Puritan theologian, minister, and civic leader, Cotton Mather, wrote in his pamphlet India Christiana (1721) that ‘we have now seen the Sun Rising in the West’.1 It is an evocative image — one that almost seems almost apocalyptic. In one sentence, Mather turns the natural world upside down, conflating origins with endings, collapsing Genesis into Revelation, and turning east into west. Mather elaborates on the work of resetting the directional West and specifically the location of America and its relation to old Europe in passages such as this, but also throughout his voluminous output, including Ornaments of the Daughters of Zion (1692),2 Nehemias Americanus (1702),3 the Biblia Americana (1693–1728),4 Theopolis Americana: An Essay on the Golden Street in the Holy City (1710),5 and especially Magnali Christi Americana (1702).6 Mather conceptualises spatiality in providential terms within these texts, so as to reconfigure the New World as the site of a New Zion and to generate the new identity of the ‘American’.7 Although Mather operated within the mainstream of the Reformed Protestant religious traditions, he and other New England Puritans were, in an important sense, altering traditional Calvinist doctrine so as to better understand their position on the margins of the British world.


Sacred Space Civic Leader Holy City American Frontier Doctrinal Orthodoxy 
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© Edward Simon 2015

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  • Edward Simon

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