How did religion shape and influence colonial society?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A Puritan minister, John Winthrop was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the founder of the city of Boston.  In an allusion to the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:14, Winthrop told his passengers aboard the Arbella,

For we must consider that we should be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we should deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be may a story and a byword through the world.

Winthrop, therefore, believed that he and his fellow Puritans had a covenant with God to create a society governed by the Scriptures in which everyone worked together for the common good. As a result  of the strong influence of the Puritans, the American character was shaped by these Puritanical moral, religious, and ethical beliefs.  In fact, there are those historians who hold that the Puritan ethic of thrift, hard work, and self-sufficiency contributed considerably to the success of capitalism in the New World. And, since the Puritans held that wealth was a sign of God's favor, they strove to attain it.

This Puritan belief in a spiritual contract between God and humanity led the way for the American constitutional democracy. For, the intermingling of relgious beliefs and Colonial law became thorough.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Religion shaped the American colonies both on the personal level and on the level of whole colonies.  This was, of course, true to different extents for different people and different colonies.

On the personal level, religion was a very important part of the lives of many colonists.  This was still a time when practically everyone was religious.  For example, religion, in the form of the Great Awakening, changed the lives of many individuals during that great revival.

But religion also impacted entire colonies.  This was most particularly true in New England where colonies were explicitly set up for religious reasons.  The Puritans and their belief system helped to make New England colonies more democratic and to make them centers of mercantile activity.