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In retrospect scholars have associated Puritanism with almost every "modernizing" development in early modern European history. At the heart of this mountain of theorizing is the thesis propounded by Max Weber that Protestantism transmuted the idea of a religious calling into this-worldly achievement in the service of God, Reformed theology especially emphasized this transmutation, and Puritanism in particular made possible England's pioneering transition to modern industrial capitalism and a pervasive, secularized Puritan work ethic. Studies of Puritanism in its classic development up to the 1640s therefore have often focused on attempts to prove or disprove Weber's thesis as it applies to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of Puritanism. At this point in time the latest scholarship hesitantly supports the idea that Puritanism did have a disproportionate appeal toward artisanal guild members and the literate, that Puritanism did help inspire middling Englishmen toward new, coercive policies of social control and welfare toward their poorer brethren, and that by focusing religious salvation upon individual faith and God's predestining power Puritanism did allow Puritans engaged in economic activity to act relatively unconstrained by the inhibitions of a traditional "moral economy." If this is so, Puritanism does correlate significantly with the prerequisites for the development of a modern economy and society; but this thesis is highly qualified, and remains strongly contested. This latest word ought not to be taken as the last word on the subject.


Collinson, Patrick. The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559–1625. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

Lake, Peter. The Boxmaker's Revenge: "Orthodoxy," "Heterodoxy," and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Underdown, David. Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603–1660. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Walsham, Alexandra. Providence in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

David Randall

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Propagation to Quantum electrodynamics (QED)Puritanism - Religious Practice, Ecclesiology And Politics, Capitalism, Bibliography