Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Sarah Rivett


This dissertation argues that early American religious leaders and lay people developed philosophically complex linguistic theories as a result of a critically under-explored tension between text and religious experience. I investigate the inner workings of this dilemma across early American genres of religious experience--sermons, tracts, letters, diaries, ethnographies, and trials. Reading the plain style sermons of John Cotton, Thomas Shepard, and Thomas Hooker, Anne Hutchinson's trial, seventeenth-century Quaker language tracts, ethnographic and missionary texts about the seventeenth-century Native Americans, and the Great Awakening diaries edited by Jonathan Edwards I argue that while originating in an immaterial experience of the invisible world, religious experience had a material life in visible signs, in biblical types, and in material texts, which imagined language as rooted in the material world.


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