Jon Butler is the Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies at Yale University, an adjunct research professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a past president of the OAH. His award-winning books include The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World Society (1983); Awash in A Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990); and Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (2000). His newest project is a history of religion in Manhattan between the Gilded Age and the 1960 Kennedy election, entitled "God in Gotham."
Almost all textbooks in American history generally as well as in American religious history specifically give exceptional attention to the seventeenth-century Puritans, and in popular culture, they are often described as creating the foundation for America's most important religious traditions. This talk asks a simple question: are the Puritans overemphasized? It's answer is yes - and no. Yes, in that even in the seventeenth century America's religious makeup proved exceptionally complicated and only became more so in the eighteenth-century and later. No, in that the Puritans' unusually abundant self-expression and the fortunate retention of so much of it has long provided historians with sources often lacking elsewhere, in addition to the fact that the Puritans own complexities provide critical clues to the emerging pluralism and religious vitality that would distinguish America for the next several centuries.