“Contempt of Authoritie” and the Politics of Ecstatic Religion in the Early Restoration

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Adrian Chastain Weimer, Providence College
This paper analyzes the inner-workings of the association between religious heterodoxy and the “contempt of authoritie” in England and New England in the 1660s. Looking closely at court records, letters, and polemical tracts, it explores paths by which Quaker and Baptist meetings become known as "nests of sedition." Yet religious minorities were not just targets of the opprobrium of enthusiasm, they also targeted each other. How did Anglo-Protestants across the spectrum construct the relationship between hypocrisy in religion and hypocrisy in politics, disloyalty to the truth, and disloyalty to the government? For example, seventeenth century Quakers aggressively interrupted church services and court meetings, rejecting rituals of social deference such as hat honors as a way of proclaiming their radically egalitarian belief in the "inner light." They prophesied against the lifeless corruption of ministers and the injustices of church and state in the face of the overwhelming needs of the working poor (including Quakers burdened by fines for refusing oaths and tithes). After these performances, Quakers were fined and whipped in England and across the British colonies as potentially seditious. Quakers and other religious minorities then determinedly tried to articulate and perform their allegiance to the monarchy, while holding on to their prophetic stance against its injustices or corruptions. They also participated in labelling other religious minorities such as Muggletonians as emotionally excessive. These rhetorical strategies and modes of political and religious engagement are crucial for understanding the relationship between religion and politics in the early modern British Atlantic world.
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