Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


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A Harmony of the Spirits

Translation and the Language of Community in Early Pennsylvania

Patrick M. Erben

Cloth ISBN 978-0-8078-3557-9

Copyright 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  Dale Brown Book Award, Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies (2013)

Visit the University of North Carolina Press web page for this book.

“With remarkable skill and formidable learning, Erben integrates the histories of radical religious sectarians, both English and German, in early Pennsylvania. His elegant readings cross a wide range of sources, from mystical texts to musical scores, to restore our understanding of the utopian culture shared by the linguistically diverse believers drawn to William Penn’s ‘Holy Experiment.’”

--Mark Peterson, University of California, Berkeley

“Erben’s discerning and fascinating examination of the foundational vision of Pennsylvania traces the origins of the ‘Holy Experiment’ to early modern utopian concepts, advanced by John Amos Comenius and Jacob Böhme, that sought to overcome Babylonic language confusion through translation. In Pennsylvania, German Pietists and English Quakers alike applied these concepts to forge one community of believers. A crucial contribution.”

--Claudia Schnurmann, Universität Hamburg

“In this masterful study, Erben recovers the world of those German Pietists and English Quakers who sought to transcend the chaos of a post-Babel world and craft a linguistically pure New World utopia. Along the way, he forces us to rethink the relationship between language, religion, and community in early America. A virtuoso performance.”

--John Smolenski, University of California, Davis

A Harmony of the Spirits permits us access to a utopian Pennsylvania where potent souls could commune directly with the hearts of others, regardless of language, culture, gender, or age. Exploring this Neoplatonic aspiration for understanding enacted through translation makes the early Pennsylvania Piestists seem the opposite of the sectarians history deems them to have been. Erben refreshes our sense of the radical ways in which various German believers received William Penn’s promise that philia would be the ground of a new community in America.”

--David S. Shields, University of South Carolina