This paper concerns Cotton Mather’s religious activity of the 1690s, most notably his involvement in the Salem witch trials. At first glance it would appear the historiography has thoroughly plumbed this unsavoury period of Mather’s life, yet most of its focus has been on Mather’s psychological disposition and the physical impact of his ecclesiastical appraisals. Less attention has been afforded to the theology behind his decision-making processes, which were significantly informed by his eschatological and soteriological views.
This gap is made even more significant by the fact that his largest literary religious work – the Biblia Americana – went unpublished by the time of his death and disappeared with little trace for nearly three centuries. Consequently, scarce attention has been afforded to this text despite its richness in themes of the supernatural, pastoral responsibilities, and the parousia, and thus contemporary scholarship lacks crucial insights into Mather’s theological perspectives (to illustrate this point, a project started in the early 2000s that aims to produce a ten-volume print edition of the manuscript – it totals over 4,500 folio pages – has so far produced seven). This text, combined with a renewed examination of Mather’s sermonic writings in the 1690s and his personal, familial, geographic, and ministerial history, suggest a narrative far more complex than one of simple demagogic
Michael Green’s research asserts that Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana was a response to and the physical manifestation of his belief in an immanent and necessary “re-Reformation” with himself as a leading figure, and that this conviction was intensified and clarified by the onset of the witch trials. In turn, then, the Biblia Americana became, at least initially, a direct response to the trials themselves, and derived itself from eschatological Puritan theology and typological references to the Second Coming. This paper yields a heretofore uninvestigated connection between the witch trials, the Biblia Americana, and Mather’s theological attitudes and overarching millennial claims.
Michael Green, born in North Carolina, USA, is currently a student at Cambridge pursuing an MPhil in Early Modern History with interests in transatlantic intellectual history and colonial Protestantism in North America. He graduated from Brigham Young University in April 2023, and over the summer was an intern at the Berlin Center for Intellectual Diaspora in Germany. He has presented research at Oxford, as well as multiple universities in the United States. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the American honour society for history, and is an alumni of the Woolf institute at Cambridge.
- this seminar is free
to attend but booking in advance is required.