When most Americans think about the Puritans–when they think about them at all–it’s usually to dismiss them as stern, hard-hearted folks–the kind of people who enjoyed plastering Hester Prynne with a “Scarlet Letter.”
One of the burdens of my US History classes is to chip away at this stigma. The Puritans took things seriously–it’s true–because life is serious business. But that didn’t keep them from loving whole-heartedly and feeling deeply.
We have more evidence of this in a recent book by Abram Van Engen called Sympathetic Puritans. Van Engen’s book is all about how Puritans valued sympathy, understood as care and even imaginative identification with others.
I wrote a longer review of the book in my monthly piece for the Religion in American History Blog.