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Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England / Edition 1

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In her analysis of the cultural construction of gender in early America, Elizabeth Reis explores the intersection of Puritan theology, Puritan evaluations of womanhood, and the Salem witchcraft episodes. She finds in that intersection the basis for understanding why women were accused of witchcraft more often than men, why they confessed more often, and why they frequently accused other women of being witches. In the process of negotiating their beliefs about the devil's powers in practical ways, both women and men embedded womanhood in the discourse of depravity. Women and men feared hell equally but the Puritan culture encourage women to believe that it was their vile natures which would take them there rather than the particular sins they may have committed. Following the Salem witchcraft trials, Reis argues, Puritans' understanding of sin and the devil changed. Women and men took more responsibility for their sins and became increasingly confident of their redemption, yet women more than men continued to imagine themselves as essentially corrupt, even after the Great Awakening.
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Editorial Reviews

Sandra F. VanBurkleo
"[Elizaeth Reis'] Damned Women....seeks to understand, first, how gender system cut across religious belief, both during and after the trials; in the process, she is able to draw the history of witchcraft trials into the intellectual history of Puritanism....[She] shows clearly the Puritan obsession with evil and demonic influence, and how gener proscriptions shaped interpretatins of virtuous or sinful behavior.....In a particularly cogent chapter, Reis interprets the confessions less as a pragmatic way to avoid execution....than as evidence of the internalization of prevailng ideas about woman's sinful natures and her special propensity for faithlessness...." -- The Women's Review of Books
From the Publisher
"When trying to explain the timing and course of events at Salem, historians almost never turned to the assumptions about gender—maleness and femaleness—embedded within a Puritan cosmology. Elizabeth Reis' rich-minded (and delightfully titled) Damned Women takes great strides toward addressing these omissions. . . . Reis shifts the inquiry away from the attributes and interests of individuals, toward radical Protestantism, gender ideologies and male-female internalization of these powerful intellectual systems. She seeks to understand, first, how gender systems cut across religious belief, both during and after the trails; in the process, she is able to draw the history of witchcraft trials into the intellectual history of Puritanism."—Women's Review of Books

"In this thoughtful and stimulating book, Reis has reintroduced religion and the Devil into the discussion of 17th-century New England witchcraft, reminding readers that despite factors such as psychology, property, class distinctions, economic differences, and geography, New Englanders understood witchcraft to be a contest between God and the Devil. . . . Reis argues that men saw their sin as specific ungodly actions, easily overcome, while women interpreted their sin as inherent in their very natures, far less easily resisted. . . . She concludes that the Salem episode change society's view of the Devil, in that the 18th century came to view the Devil less as a physical presence and more as a spiritual tempter, much easier to resist. Strongly recommended."—Choice

"Reis makes a complex and persuasive argument that men and women defined their relationship to sin in different ways. . . . Reis has offered a richly textured and deeply informed study. . . . This is an important and valuable book, one that broadens our understanding of a variety of issues, particularly those related to matters of gender. Reis has presented a major contribution to the scholarship of seventeenth-century New England which also opens avenues for investigation that go beyond her splendid treatment of the 'witchcraft' issue."—Bernard Rosenthal, The New England Quarterly

"In this interesting book, Elizabeth Reis argues that ordinary Puritans were as much concerned about damnation as they were about sanctification. . . . In its attention to popular ideas about supernatural reality and their role in constructing gender, this book is an important contribution to our understanding of American religious thought—and a timely one, given the resurgence of supernatural beliefs today. Moreover, Reis's emphasis on the power of religious belief is enlightening, as is her skillful return to Puritan culture as a basis for understanding the historical development of American religious thought."—Amanda Porterfield, Catholic Historical Review

"Damned Women reflects the new cultural history in its exploration of magic, folk religion, and Puritan ideology at the interstice of the Salem witch trials. Through her concentration upon the ideological constructions of Satan and evil, Reis charts the transition from pre-Enlightenment to rationalist thought—her discussion enhanced by the incorporation of literary texts and striking visual images. . . . Intrigued by women who confessed to witchcraft and women who accused other women, Reis embarks upon a sophisticated exploration of the gendered language and interconnected ideology that constructed witchcraft, Satan, evil, and the human self. . . . Reis's arguments are intriguing . . . Damned Women is exciting and provocative. . . . Damned Women makes a significant contribution to the scholarship about gender and religion."—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A reader unfamiliar with Puritan doctrine or its subtle deviation from Calvinism will quickly become informed. All key terms are clearly defined in context, and the book is heavily footnoted with early and modern sources. Most striking are the confessions by the unfortunate accused."—EBSCO Publishing/EBSCOhost and Northern Light

"An impressive book from which I learned a great deal."—John M. Murrin, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801486111
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 212
  • Sales rank: 1,050,087
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Puritan Women and the Discourse of Depravity 1
1 Women's Sinful Natures and Men's Natural Sins 12
2 Popular and Ministerial Visions of Satan 55
3 The Devil, the Body, and the Feminine Soul 93
4 Gender and the Meanings of Confession 121
5 Satan Dispossessed 164
Epilogue: Gender, Faith, and "Young Goodman Brown" 194
Index 205
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