Master of Arts (MA)
Samuel C. Smith
Childhood, Enlightenment, Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, Puritan, Youth
Arts and Humanities | History | History of Religion | Other History | United States History
Allen, Russell, "Holy Children are Happy Children: Jonathan Edwards and Puritan Childhood" (2016). Masters Theses. 399.
The eighteenth century is often considered the most important era in the history of childhood. Old Puritan conceptions of original sin and physical punishment gave way to Enlightenment concepts of childhood innocence and rationality. Jonathan Edwards was a central figure who stood in the midst of this intellectual change. Situated quite literally in the middle of the transitioning eighteenth century, Edwards’ attempted to bridge the gap between Puritan conceptions of childhood and new ideas made popular by John Locke. Sometimes the bridge held firmly, and other times it cracked widely. Edwards’ theological and philosophical understanding of childhood was at the heart of both his preaching and writing. An examination of Edwards’ rhetoric to children reveals a great deal about how he attempted to reconcile these two different ideologies. His ability to reason with children and redirect their wills to God was unique for his time. While Edwards’ view of childhood is far from modern, the ideas that he expressed had a large impact on American childhood conceptions throughout the following centuries and into today.