Cotton Mather's cosmology and the 1692 Salem witch trials

Price, David Wayne (2001) Cotton Mather's cosmology and the 1692 Salem witch trials. Doctoral thesis, University of North London.

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Abstract / Description

The Salem witchcraft trials and Cotton Mather's role in them continue to engage the interests of historians and scholars, who have written about them from a number of perspectives, including those derived from most of the social sciences. However, Mather's own seventeenth-century, New England historical-theological context, has attracted much less scholarly interest. Instead, such studies tend to echo the historical portrait of Cotton Mather as the enigmatic representative of the Salem witch-hunt, a view first created by Mather's contemporary critic, Robert Calef.

Yet, in relation to Salem studies and Cotton Mather's role in them, the theological dimension provides an important and perhaps vital lens through which to study the events at Salem in 1692 to 1693. Moving away from the at time banal observations of scholars about Mather's general Puritan theology, this thesis lays greater emphasis upon Mather's well-formulated and consistent cosmology and response to witch episodes prior to, during, and after the Salem trials.

In light of this demonstrable integrity, the thesis suggests a more equitable assessment of the relationship between Mather's preconceived and demonstrated cosmology and his role in the Salem trials. While not suggesting that Mather can or should be absolved of all responsibility for his behavior during, or the course of the trials, the thesis presents a more balanced appraisal of the relative importance and roles of Mather and the Salem Court. Although Mather did in fact make mistakes in his handling of his advice to Governor Phips, and in the publication of The Wonders of the Invisible World, the study gives a fresh understanding of those mistakes and presents a clearer view of Mather's influence upon the proceedings.

As a whole, this study develops a more fully articulated interpretive model of the relationship between the forces and personalities present in New England during the early 1690s, and allows us to explore a single individual's intellectual and behavioral contribution to a series of events for which that individual, Cotton Mather, has traditionally been held responsible. Additionally, the focus on Cotton Mather and the Salem episode, provides an opportunity to add a further level of interpretive understanding of Salem witchcraft by re-examining what is arguably, and what contemporaries would certainly have identified as the underpinnings of the entire episode: the theological worldview of seventeenth-century New England.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: Mather, Cotton, 1663-1728. Memorable providences relating to witchcrafts and possessions; Witch hunting--Massachusetts--Salem--History--17th century
Subjects: 100 Philosophy & psychology > 130 Parapsychology & occultism
900 History & geography > 970 History of North America
Department: School of Social Sciences (to June 2021)
Depositing User: Mary Burslem
Date Deposited: 24 Mar 2022 15:07
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2022 15:07


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