Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


Religion and Violence in Early America

A conference sponsored by the Yale University School of Graduate Studies and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, in cooperation with the Jonathan Edwards Center and the Initiative on Religion and Politics

United Church on the Green Temple and Elm Streets

Whitney Humanities Center
53 Wall Street
New Haven, Connecticut

Introduction

Although the inhabitants of early North America did not suffer through the bloody wars of religion that consumed various parts of Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation eras, they certainly knew the pain of what anthropologists have called “sacred violence.” This conference will examine some of the ways that violence was sacralized in a colonial context and how religious beliefs and practices were used to mitigate or redirect violence in less destructive channels. It explores a variety of sites in North America from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries—churches, courtrooms, scaffolds, prisons, battlefields, slave quarters, bodies, and texts interpreting the Bible, for example—where the relations of religion and violence are laid bare. The collision of European, Native, and African cosmologies and practices makes early North America a unique testing ground for theories about the role of violence in sustaining cultures of faith, economy, and collective and personal identity in a hostile and alien environment.

Susan Juster (University of Michigan) and Christopher Grasso (Editor, William and Mary Quarterly) developed the idea for this conference. Joining them on the conference committee were Charles Cohen (University of Wisconsin, Madison), John Demos (Yale University), Steven Hackel (University of California, Riverside), Harry S. Stout (Yale University), Douglas Winiarski (University of Richmond), and Kenneth Minkema (Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University), who also handled the local arrangements. This conference would not have been possible without the support of Jon Butler, Dean of the Yale University School of Graduate Studies, which is cosponsoring the event along with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, in cooperation with Yale’s Jonathan Edwards Center and Initiative on Religion and Politics.

Created by the College of William and Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1943, the Institute advances the study of the history and cultures of North America from circa 1450 to 1820, including related developments in the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Africa. It publishes the William and Mary Quarterly and books in its field of interest, organizes and supports a variety of conferences, seminars, and colloquia, and annually offers a two-year NEH postdoctoral fellowship and a one-year Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral research fellowship. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University opened in October 2003, on the 300th anniversary of Edwards’s birth. Housed at the Yale Divinity School, the Center supports research and inquiry into the life and writings of the man known as “America’s theologian” through the publication of the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online. The Initiative on Religion and Politics at Yale, also located in the Divinity School, “seeks to foster thoughtful activism, enrich scholarly discourse, and deepen public conversation on the place of religion in public life, both nationally and internationally.”