SoSe 14: The Tormented Soul: Conversion, Confession, and Self-Fashioning in Puritan New England
"The most familiar figure among Puritans is the tormented soul, constantly examining his every thought and action, now convinced that hell awaits him, now lunging after the straw of hope that he is ... read more
"The most familiar figure among Puritans is the tormented soul, constantly examining his every thought and action, now convinced that hell awaits him, now lunging after the straw of hope that he is saved, and then once more falling into despair", writes Robert Middlekauff. In this class we will explore what role this "tormented" self-analysis played in the Puritan formation of identity in Colonial New England. What drove the Puritans to examine themselves so rigorously, and what form of subjectivity emerged from this ceaseless introspection? Puritans detested the self as a container of sin and deception, never to be trusted and always to be resisted. Yet at the same time the deceptive quality of the self led to an obsession with it, to disclose the full extent of its wicked ways, manifested in the most common genres at the time besides the
sermon: journals, diaries, spiritual biographies, and autobiographies.
Performing close readings of the conversion narratives and confessional modes found in Puritan writing, our aim will be to understand how these texts were used to write the Puritan self into existence, one that may not be as antiquated and alien to modern conceptions of selfhood as its theological fervor at first strikes us. Besides reading primary sources, we will read texts by Michel Foucault, Max Weber, and St. Augustine, among others, in order to contextualize and frame our understanding of Puritan self-fashioning.
All the material for the course will be available either on Blackboard or in the "Handapparat".
Requirements: regular attendance, class presentation, and a final research paper.