Heathen Men and Publicans': Excommunicates, Church Discipline and the Struggle for Freedom of Conscience, 1730-1840
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
"Heathen Men and Publicans" looks at the ways in which freedom of conscience and association intertwined in from the early colonial through the early national eras of American history, by examining the arguments which excommunicated Protestants leveled in an effort to protest the church discipline with which they were faced, as well as the reforms they endeavored to enact within the church bodies they joined and created following their excisions from religious societies. Likewise, the dissertation asks how conceptions of church discipline bled over into the civil sphere to influence politics and political culture in the years following the American Revolution. From 1730-1840, alternative conceptions of liberty of conscience and association dueled for preeminence in the chapels and meetinghouses of American Protestants. Where ecclesiastical leaders and many laymen described the liberties in question in corporate terms--as the property of religious bodies duly established--those faced with church discipline increasingly argued that individual conceptions of freedom of conscience and association deserved to be protected within associated societies. to this end, excommunicates following the Revolution embarked on a number of novel experiments in church government, minimizing the importance of church ordinances, disputing the existence of heresy, arguing for the liberty of excommunicates to employ the property of the religious meetings to which they had once belonged, and insisting that members, not church bodies, held the right to decide if and when they would exit a religious association. Even as many excommunicates sought to subject themselves to new religious communities following their excisions, they nonetheless contributed to the rise of an increasingly atomized sense of individual conscience in the early American Republic.
© The Author
Wells, Samuel Spencer, "Heathen Men and Publicans': Excommunicates, Church Discipline and the Struggle for Freedom of Conscience, 1730-1840" (2018). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1550153808.
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